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October 30, 2014

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Nevada’s marijuana advocates are hoping for full legalization next year

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Ted S. Warren / AP

Jake Dimmock, co-owner of the Northwest Patient Resource Center medical marijuana dispensary, waters plants Oct. 10, 2012, in Seattle.

Marijuana advocates say they are crafting the necessary initiative language for Nevada voters to approve the use of pot for recreational purposes, perhaps by next year.

In their best scenario, enough Nevada voters — a minimum of about 102,000 — will sign petitions supporting legalization of marijuana, setting the stage for a vote in the state Legislature in 2015. If the measure fails to win the support of two-thirds of the lawmakers, the question would go to voters in 2016.

Touting the benefits of regulating and taxing what is now an underground industry in Nevada, advocates say they’re confident they’ll have the money and votes required to pass an initiative similar to the one that Colorado voters approved in 2012.

“Based on the dynamics we’re seeing in Colorado with full adult use being legal, it seems a natural fit for Nevada,” said Joe Brezny, executive director of the Nevada Cannabis Industry Association and officer with the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana, the Nevada political action committee organized to get the legalization initiative on the 2016 ballot.

Last week, a group of investors reported raising $150,000 in matching funds at an initiative campaign kickoff event. Advocates expect the campaign to begin within three months with an effort to collect the signatures necessary to qualify the initiative.

Legalized marijuana has been rejected three times in Nevada — twice at the ballot box when the measure garnered 39 percent of the vote in 2002 and 44 percent of vote in 2006. The Legislature rejected it last year.

Brezny says support for legalized marijuana has been growing for two decades. In a Retail Association of Nevada poll last October, 54 percent supported the commercial sale of marijuana if all tax revenue derived from it was earmarked for education funding.

Brezny, who most recently worked for Republican Mitt Romney’s failed presidential campaign, equated the legalization of marijuana with the legalization of gambling. At first it’s odd and perhaps even frightening, but people get used to it over time, he said.

“When people hear about the tasting menus for cannabis edibles in the Colorado market, they’re shocked, and they say ‘how can that be?’” he said. “But having a glass of wine with dinner is completely normal. We’re seeing a shift on this issue, and we’re seeing a shift within the electorate socially.”

Meanwhile, Nevadans will likely be hearing more about marijuana as state regulators and local governments begin to license and open medical marijuana dispensaries later this year.

Last year, Sen. Tick Segerblom, D-Las Vegas, and Sen. Mark Hutchison, R-Las Vegas, sponsored and helped pass a bill authorizing medical marijuana dispensaries.

Access to medical marijuana is enshrined in Nevada’s constitution; recreational use is illegal under state law, and all marijuana use is illegal under federal law.

Segerblom said dispensaries could lead the way to full legalization in Nevada in 2016.

“The goal, frankly, is to have the medical marijuana up and running so people can see that it is not anything to fear and then assuming that that is how it goes, then people would be open to considering full-scale legalization,” he said.

Brezny said he’s hopeful the Legislature would pass the initiative in 2015.

“I think it’s an easy thing for them to embrace,” he said. “It has popular support of the people. It has broad-based support throughout the electorate and there are pockets of support in places where you wouldn’t expect it.”

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