Cathleen Allison / AP
Published Friday, April 5, 2013 | 1:39 p.m.
Updated Friday, April 5, 2013 | 3:36 p.m.
CARSON CITY — State lawmakers heard passionate arguments Friday over a measure that ends the prohibition on recreational marijuana use in Nevada and funnels the tax revenues toward the underfunded state education system.
Assemblyman Joseph Hogan, D-Las Vegas, presented AB402 to members of the Assembly Judiciary Committee with just a week to go before the deadline for bills to clear their first committees.
Hogan said the bill is not about smoking marijuana, but rather is "about coming to terms with reality and showing some courage."
"The prohibition against marijuana has essentially failed," Hogan told committee members. "It has created a black market that hangs like a cancer alongside our unfunded education system."
The bill would place a 25 percent excise tax on each grower, manufacturer and purchaser of marijuana. Those proceeds would go toward early childhood education and literacy programs in K through 12th grade, Assemblyman Andrew Martin, D-Las Vegas and the other primary sponsor of the bill, said.
"There's a lot of money involved. This is huge," Martin said. "The marijuana market exists and we've closed our eyes to it like we did in the old days to gambling, or alcohol, or brothels, or whatever."
In direct tax revenue alone, the state would likely receive $1.5 billion per year, Martin said. He added that tourism would increase and restaurants would see an uptick in sales.
The law would not require employers to allow workers to use marijuana while on company time or property; similarly, landlords could prohibit marijuana on their property.
The legalization of marijuana is long overdue, and the adverse effects of the drug are minuscule, according to Dr. Stephen Frye, a retired professor of medicine at the University of Nevada, Reno. He added that marijuana has medical capabilities and that recent studies indicate marijuana may fight certain types of cancer.
"We are talking miraculous medicine. We are not talking about a dangerous drug," Frye said. "I have been to Amsterdam three times and used marijuana each time, and I can tell you it's delightful."
He went on to say that driving under the influence of marijuana is no more dangerous than driving while drinking orange juice.
Republicans on the committee questioned the legitimacy of a state law that legalizes activity that is illegal under federal law. While proponents said the Legislature writes Nevada's laws, Assemblywoman Michele Fiore, R-Las Vegas, said the issue is bigger than the state level.
"Just because we want to be our bosses here in our own states, the feds can still come in and wipe us out," Fiore said "That's a real issue."
But according to a Karen O'Keefe, the director of state policies for the California-based Marijuana Policy Project, the federal government has "bigger fish to fry" and is unlikely to go after marijuana users in states where the drug is legalized.
Law enforcement officials argued against the bill, saying marijuana is extremely detrimental to one's ability to drive and that it destroys family.
"I've seen firsthand the destructive impact drug abuse and drug addiction has on families and we believe the passage of this bill will advance that," said Chuck Callaway, an officer with the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police with more than 20 years of experience in law enforcement.
Eric Spratley of the Washoe County told the committee that a driver under the influence of marijuana caused a wreck that killed a Reno police officer in 2002.
Other opponents said the high taxes included in this measure would prevent it from curtailing the criminal black market sales of marijuana because the illegal sales will be much cheaper.
The committee took no action Friday.