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September 21, 2014

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Q+A: State Sen. Tick Segerblom on his vice tax for Vegas, Nevada

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Tick Segerblom

State Sen. Tick Segerblom doesn’t shy from talking about drugs. He quickly acknowledges smoking pot in the 1960s.

“I inhaled and I survived,” he said with a chuckle. Later, when asked the last time he smoked pot, Segerblom said: "Without being specific it was probably in the '90s."

Segerblom is cold sober, though, when talking about addiction.

The lawmaker from Las Vegas wants to draft a bill to tax alcohol, cigarettes, prescription drugs and gambling to pay for state-run treatment programs. He says it will be a way to tie the costs of treating addictions to the companies that supply the addicts. (He hasn’t crafted a tax rate for each substance).

This isn’t Segerblom’s first attempt to corral the state’s substance abuse problem. He sponsored a bill in the 2013 Legislature to pin liability of prescription drug abuse on doctors. The bill failed miserably.

Segerblom, a Democrat who sponsored the bill that legalized medical marijuana dispensaries in 2013, knows he faces long odds to get the bill passed. But he believes it’s “worth the conversation.”

Segerblom sat down with the Sun to talk about the potential bill.

It is not easy to pass new taxes considering the political views of some of your cohorts in the Legislature.

You’re going after the gambling industry, the liquor industry and the cigarette industry.

Do you see a tax hike on vice as something everybody can agree on?

I think they can agree on the concept. Whether they can agree on how much each piece pays and whether they should pay I am not sure.

What does it currently cost the state to treat addictions of all sorts?

I don’t know that the state pays for rehabilitation for people outside the criminal justice system. But once you get into the criminal justice system that’s when the cost becomes incredibly expensive, particularly if you’re incarcerated. ... If you look at the prison population a lot of it is tied to drugs and alcohol.

Nevada has the fourth highest drug overdose mortality rate in the United States with 20.7 per 100,000. What can the Legislature do to cure that statistic?

We have to make it harder to get prescription narcotics, and we have to educate doctors that this isn’t something you just give as a course. What’s happened is a lot of people get addicted because they get a prescription for a knee surgery and then they can’t get it anymore so they go out and get heroin. … We need to stop having narcotic prescriptions as a matter of course.

Once marijuana grow houses and dispensaries start to pervade the state, will there be a decrease in prescription drug abuse?

It certainly could happen given a lot of the evidence — it’s anecdotal — that a lot of people who used opioids turned to marijuana to alleviate the pain.

Can you see Nevada legalizing recreational marijuana?

Absolutely.

Why?

The reality is, it’s out there. If you want to buy it, you can buy it. But what’s happening is that we’re basically funding cartels. We’re making criminals out of people. We’re not taxing. We’re not making sure the substance is legitimate. We don’t test it. But it’s here.

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