We all know I am against altering the mind with chemicals. I am extremely opposed to this. Unfortunately, society today thinks much more differently than me.
LAS VEGAS - Famously freewheeling Nevada, home to legal brothels, grocery store slot machines and some of the fanciest casinos on earth, may break another vice barrier this November when voters decide whether to make it the first state in the nation to legalize marijuana.
A trail-blazing initiative appearing on the state ballot asks the public to decriminalize possession of less than 3 ounces of cannabis for people over 21 and to require state legislators to devise a regulatory system for its production and sale.
Under Nevada law, even if the measure passes in November, it would have to be approved by voters again in 2004 to become a constitutional amendment.
But proponents are hopeful the measure will pass, marking a startling break from federal drug laws that bar all marijuana possession.
The petition effort that placed the initiative on the ballot garnered more than 109,000 signatures or nearly double the required number. A Sept. 26 poll by the NBC affiliate in Las Vegas showed a majority of voters supporting the measure, with 55 percent in favor and 43 percent opposed.
In addition, the group promoting the constitutional change, Nevadans for Responsible Law Enforcement, or NRLE, is flush with money -- it has almost $500,000 on hand -- and has run TV ads since Sept. 12.
Opponents, who waited until Sept. 27 to officially form Nevadans Against Legalizing Marijuana, may not even have money for mailers, according to the group's members.
A 'GRASS-ROOTS' FIGHT
"The bottom line is that this is going to take a lot of talking and a lot of shoe leather," said Sandy Heverly, executive director of the anti-drunk driving group Stop DUI, one of the groups opposing the measure. "It's going to be a real grass-roots effort, no pun intended."
Heverly is appalled that the largest newspaper in the state, the Las Vegas Review-Journal, endorsed the measure as a means to "bring compassion and common sense to drug laws" and that Republican Gov. Kenny Guinn won't take sides.
But even if the measure passes, federal agents will still investigate and bust drug sellers, so anyone who sells marijuana -- even under a state law permitting it -- would remain in jeopardy under federal law, according to Tom Riley, spokesman for the Office of National Drug Control Policy.
Pro-marijuana activists acknowledge that they targeted Nevada because it is a small state with a libertarian bent where voters amended the constitution through votes in 1998 and 2000 to legalize medical marijuana.
"This is about responsible adults using marijuana in the privacy of their homes as well as guaranteed legal access to medical marijuana because right now, patients still have to buy it from drug dealers in order to get it," said Billy Rogers, a Texan sent to Nevada to run the NRLE campaign.
But opponents don't view 3 ounces as a small amount. That's enough for 250 marijuana cigarettes and more than what a person would have for their personal use, they say. They're also outraged by what they see as an invasion of the state by an outside activist group that now has 50 paid campaign workers here.
Heverly and others argue that the initiative as worded could invalidate current intoxicated driving laws regarding marijuana, raise auto insurance rates for everyone and turn Nevada into a haven for pot smokers.
"All Nevada is going to do is look stupid and foolish," said Gary Booker, a prosecutor in Clark County, which includes Las Vegas. "It would be like enacting a constitutional amendment that legalizes slavery. It's illegal and it will still be illegal."
AN AMERICAN AMSTERDAM?
Booker insisted that few people are convicted in America solely for low-level marijuana possession. He said most of those who are arrested are accused of other crimes, but plead down to a conviction on just the marijuana charge.
And he noted that Nevada's law is already lenient. Possession of less than an ounce of marijuana is a misdemeanor for which an offender must pay a $600 fine, and possession of between 1 ounce and 100 pounds is a felony that carries a mandatory probation sentence for the first two offenses.
Many Democrats believe that the marijuana question, which is expected to draw liberal voters to the polls, could help them in other races this fall.
And some Sin City businesses are positively high on the prospect of legal pot -- which they see as offering yet another attraction for a city that already boasts casino versions of New York, Paris and ancient Egypt.
"There are unlimited tourism possibilities," gushed Terry Wilsey of A Answer on Travel. "Las Vegas could become the American Amsterdam."