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The Year of Common Sense?

Discussion in 'Marijuana News from The USA' started by Superjoint, Feb 27, 2001.

  1. By Steve Sebelius
    Source: Las Vegas Review-Journal

    This year was shaping up to be the year that Nevada finally started to inject some common sense into its Draconian drug laws, albeit a small, narrowly tailored and entirely conventional bit of common sense. But on an issue that has so long gone without, a single step in the right direction can make up for years of ignoring reality.
    Assemblywoman Chris Giunchigliani, D-Las Vegas, had reintroduced her bill to reduce the penalty for possessing one ounce or less of marijuana from a felony to a misdemeanor. She'd tried it back in 1999, and it went nowhere.

    Voters in neighboring California, meanwhile, had overwhelmingly voted to legalize marijuana for medical use, for patients who had cancer, AIDS, glaucoma or other ailments that the drug seems to help. Voters in Nevada, required to twice pass constitutional amendments, had at the end of 2000 reaffirmed their 1998 support of medical marijuana.

    And buttressing these developments, a commission empaneled by the Nevada Supreme Court last summer also recommended that those caught with small amounts of marijuana be charged with misdemeanors, not felonies. It was a repeat of a 1994 commission recommendation that never went anywhere in Carson City.

    Everything, it seemed, was going the right way -- assuming you believe that casual marijuana users shouldn't be technically classified as felons, even if most arrests of small time users in Clark County are eventually pleaded down to misdemeanors anyway.

    And then came Jessica Williams.

    The former exotic dancer who'd been smoking marijuana before running down six teens doing roadside trash pickup as community service brought the illicit use of the drug to the fore. Day after day, headlines and newscasts explored what effect, if any, the drug had had on her ability to drive, and whether it was responsible for the March 19 accident. Jurors eventually decided not to find Williams guilty of driving under the influence of marijuana; instead, they cited her for driving with a prohibited substance in her blood, which carries the same penalty. That law, Williams attorney John Watkins says, won't stand up on appeal, nor should it.

    But will Giunchigliani's bill be dragged down because of the Williams case?

    The assemblywoman says no. "I just don't see it as an issue here," she says. "It really doesn't fit to what we're trying to do." What she's trying to do, she says, is mirror the current practice in Clark County, which is to plead each small-amount case to a misdemeanor anyway. District Attorney Stewart Bell says his office is too busy focusing on violent crime and repeat offenders to worry about casual marijuana users. "It (the Giunchigliani bill) isn't going to make much difference to us," he says.

    It may be a different story in the rural areas of the state, which have few violent crimes but take offenses like marijuana use a little more seriously. Giunchigliani says the Nevada Division of Investigations, the statewide drug-fighting agency, opposed her bill in 1999.

    In addition to the "de-felonization" of small amounts of marijuana, Giunchigliani's bill would codify how medical patients get marijuana, including a statewide registry, a criminal background check (to weed out would-be traffickers) and a special card identifying patients eligible to get the drug. She says she has to be careful, because the federal government (which has at least two major agencies, the FBI and the Drug Enforcement Administration, dedicated to fighting drugs) isn't too keen on states that actually exercise the 10th Amendment states' rights doctrine and allow sick people to smoke dope.

    Although the conventional wisdom is that politicians who take on the drug laws do so at their electoral peril, Giunchigliani isn't worried. "My people know where I stand on this issue. I don't hide it," she says. "It (her bill) doesn't condone (marijuana use). It doesn't advocate drug use. It just says that we don't think you're a criminal just because you have an ounce or less or marijuana."

    It's a little bit of common sense. But is anybody listening?

    Steve Sebelius is a Review-Journal political columnist. His column runs Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday.

    Reach him at 383-0283 or by e-mail at: Steve_Sebelius@lasvegas.com

    Source: Las Vegas Review-Journal (NV)
    Author: Steve Sebelius
    Published: Tuesday, February 27, 2001
    Copyright: 2001 Las Vegas Review-Journal
    Address: P.O. Box 70, Las Vegas, NV 89125
    Fax: (702) 383-4676
    Contact: letters@lvrj.com
    Website: http://www.lvrj.com/
     

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