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October 21, 2014

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Legalized medicinal pot has new supporter: Harry Reid

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Christopher DeVargas

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid sits down with the Las Vegas Sun, Tuesday Dec. 3, 2013.

Updated Thursday, Jan. 16, 2014 | 2:25 p.m.

Several Nevada municipalities are issuing moratoriums on medical marijuana dispensaries, but Harry Reid really thinks they should be moving in the opposite direction – toward making medicinal pot legal.

“If you’d asked me this question a dozen years ago, it would have been easy to answer – I would have said no, because (marijuana) leads to other stuff,” the Senate majority leader told the Sun today. “But I can’t say that anymore.”

“I think we need to take a real close look at this,” Reid went on. “I think that there’s some medical reasons for marijuana.”

Reid, who is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, is not one who normally rushes to embrace controversial substances.

“I’ve never tried it,” he initially joked, when the topic of marijuana was raised in today’s interview.

But Reid described his evolving opinion on medical marijuana by citing the stories of individuals whose ailments found no other relief but in smoking pot – people he’s heard about on the news, and people he’s known personally.

There was one case in particular, about the only son of a Las Vegas elected official whom Reid did not specify by name, who had severe kidney failure, losing not just one, but two kidneys while a college student.

“He was so skinny and doing so poorly and somebody told him and his mom, you know, you should smoke some marijuana, because one of the side effects is … you get the munchies, you get extremely hungry,” Reid said. “He tried it and sure enough, he was able to eat for the first time, he got hungry. So I thought, you know there might be some medical reasons for taking another look at this.”

Reid cited CNN and NPR reports about children suffering from seizures as well, to make the case that over the past several years, he’d come to think that marijuana seemed a sensible and humane treatment for people suffering from particular conditions with no other treatment or cure.

Currently, Las Vegas, Henderson and Yerington have placed moratoriums on applications, permits and licensing for medical marijuana dispensaries while they figure out how to regulate the industry.

Councilmembers voting unanimously for the Las Vegas moratorium in September cited concerns that marijuana still was considered a Schedule 1 controlled substance.

The debates in Nevada municipalities are taking place against a dynamic national backdrop. At least 20 states, as well as the District of Columbia, have legalized some form of medical marijuana use, and at least six other states have legislation to do the same pending. In Nevada, voters approved Question 9 in 2000 to amend the state's constitution to recognize the medical use of marijuana. The law took effect Oct. 1, 2001.

Nevada’s local moratoriums on medical marijuana are also coming at approximately the same time as another Western state, Colorado, experiments with the country’s first legalization of marijuana for recreational use.

Reid stressed that his opinions only pertain to medical uses of marijuana, and he waved off a question about whether Nevada should follow Colorado’s lead.

“I don’t know about that,” Reid said. “I just think that we need to look at the medical aspects of it.”

But Reid did say that he thought the current legal system for prosecuting and sentencing marijuana users was extremely flawed.

“I guarantee you one thing,” Reid said. “We waste a lot of time and law enforcement going after these guys that are smoking marijuana.”

Staff writer Andrew Doughman contributed to this story.

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