By Jane Ann Morrison, Review-Journal
Source: Las Vegas Review-Journal
Advocates of changing the Nevada Constitution to decriminalize possession of 3 ounces or less of marijuana landed a significant endorsement from an unlikely source: police.
Andy Anderson, president of the Nevada Conference of Police and Sheriffs, said Tuesday that the group's board voted 9-0 to support Question 9, the ballot question that would block the arrest or prosecution of people 21 or older found with 3 ounces or less of marijuana.
NCOPS' rationale: Police should be working more serious crimes.
"We're not endorsing marijuana, we're not saying marijuana is good. We're saying we should be spending our time protecting and serving the public," Anderson said. "It's not cops for pot."
However, the victory by ballot measure proponents was muddied somewhat. One board member was confused and thought he was voting on medical marijuana use. Also, the largest organization within NCOPS disagrees with the endorsement.
Mick Gillins, assistant executive director of the Las Vegas Police Protective Association, said he voted yes Monday under the belief he was supporting the use of marijuana for medical purposes. That was the Question 9 ballot question of 1998 and 2000.
Gillins said while he initially misunderstood the ballot question, after discussing it again with Anderson, "I'm sticking with my vote."
However, David Kallas, his boss at the PPA, said the PPA will not support the part of Question 9 that legalizes marijuana use for adults. The question also contains some language regarding the use of marijuana for medical purposes.
"We don't have an issue with a proposal legalizing marijuana for medical purposes based on a doctor's prescription," Kallas said.
NCOPS is an umbrella group representing police unions from Las Vegas, North Las Vegas, Henderson, the Clark County School District and other police officer organizations in Nevada. NCOPS represents more than 3,000 members, of which 2,100 are PPA members.
"The bottom line is, we think we can use our resources better than making simple marijuana arrests," Anderson said.
Anderson predicted the NCOPS endorsement will have a major impact to help the passage of the question, which will be on November's ballot.
Current polls show that Nevadans are divided on this question, which is opposed by federal drug officials and the Clark County district attorney's office.
Billy Rogers is point man for the question's backers, Nevadans for Responsible Law Enforcement, which is a subsidiary of the national Marijuana Policy Project.
"This endorsement puts us over the top," he said, because it reinforces the message that police are spending too much time arresting people using small amounts of drugs.
Rogers said his group spent $375,000 on the petition drive that qualified the ballot question and has raised about $150,000 so far for the campaign promoting the question.
The NCOPS endorsement will be part of the group's ad campaign because officers are the most credible spokespersons on the issue, Rogers said.
Both he and Kallas were surprised by the NCOPS endorsement. "A month ago, if you had told me we'd get this endorsement, I would not have thought it possible," Rogers said.
Two candidates for sheriff both said they oppose Question 9.
Capt. Randy Oaks said, "I am opposed to the legalization of even small amounts of marijuana, and while I empathize with the very few people who could benefit from its medicinal qualities, the experience in California is that it was largely abused and the people pushing this are not the people who need it for illness."
Like Gillins, Oaks said he thought the Question 9 on this year's ballot was the medicinal marijuana question, which passed and is already in the Nevada Constitution. In the public's eyes, the two clearly have become intertwined, Oaks said, contending that leads to confusion.
Deputy Chief Bill Young couldn't be reached Tuesday but told the Review-Journal editorial board on July 25 he opposes the new marijuana proposal because it "sends the wrong message to young people."
He said the current way marijuana use is handled, with possession of 1 ounce being a misdemeanor that no one goes to jail for, is about right.
However, he did add, "If older folks want to smoke marijuana in their own homes, I could care less."
Young is endorsed by NCOPS, and Oaks said the pot question endorsement "speaks to the credibility of their endorsement."
While federal drug officials have urged Nevadans to vote against Question 9, no group opposing it yet has organized formally.
Gary Booker, the chief deputy district attorney in charge of the vehicular crimes unit, said that's about to change. A coalition of DUI and victims groups will be organizing to fight the ballot because of concern that the question will weaken DUI prosecutions.
Booker said Nevada will be a laughingstock if the question passes. "Nobody else has mandated it's legal to smoke pot as a constitutional right," he said. "You amend your constitution to free slaves or enact women's rights or where there is a true constitutional evil. You don't change your constitution to allow people to smoke drugs."
Booker said NCOPS was being "myopic" by taking the position that officers are wasting their time making drug arrests. He said this overlooks broader policy issues about drug use.
Rogers pointed to the elements of the petition's language that would limit pot use. The question says the Legislature should write laws to provide penalties for driving dangerously while under the influence of marijuana, smoking pot in a vehicle or public place or distribution in a jail, prison or school.
In 2000, the previous Question 9 approving marijuana for medical use passed with the support of 65 percent of voters. This new Question 9 must be approved by voters in 2002 and 2004 before taking effect.
If the question is approved, Nevada, which had the strictest marijuana laws in the nation until 2001, would have the most lenient. Among the most lenient states, Ohio, New York, Maine, Mississippi and Nebraska now require police merely to issue citations for people possessing small amounts of marijuana. Offenders pay small fines, usually $100.
Before 2001, possession of even small amounts in Nevada was a felony offense that could carry prison time but rarely did. After the medical use question passed, the Legislature decriminalized possession of 1 ounce or less in 2001.
A recent Review-Journal and reviewjournal.com poll indicated Nevada voters are almost evenly split on the issue. The poll results concluded that 44 percent of Nevada voters surveyed support the initiative, 46 percent oppose it, while 10 percent are undecided.
Note: Board of state group says officers have more pressing concerns.
Complete Title: Marijuana Ballot Issue: Police Back Legalization Measure
Source: Las Vegas Review-Journal (NV)
Author: Jane Ann Morrison, Review-Journal
Published: Wednesday, August 07, 2002
Copyright: 2002 Las Vegas Review-Journal
Related Articles & Web Sites:
Marijuana Policy Projecthttp://www.mpp.org/