A lot has already been said about how great a year 2009 was for the marijuana policy reform movement, and with good reason. The Obama administration put forward the most meaningful federal reforms in nearly three decades, the mainstream media dedicated unprecedented amounts of coverage to marijuana issues, and our national debate began to shift from medical marijuana to the greater issue of marijuana prohibition in general. Most importantly, campaigns to improve marijuana laws in dozens of states across the country have been set in motion, many with the potential for success.
Of all these state campaigns, the one I am most excited about was announced this week in Nevada, where the group Nevadans for Sensible Marijuana Laws is gathering signatures for a 2012 ballot initiative that would tax and regulate marijuana like alcohol. If this proposal succeeds, it would create, in the words of NSML campaign manager Dave Schwartz, “the best marijuana laws in the world.”
We in the marijuana policy reform movement talk a lot about why prohibition is wrong and why a regulated market would be better in virtually every way. But there has never been a strong model for a regulated market to which we could point as an example – until now. The initiative unveiled in Nevada this week is the best proposal ever for a regulated marijuana market.
Specifically, “An Act to Establish a Regulated System of Marijuana Distribution for Adults in Nevada” would:
• Make the possession of up to one ounce of marijuana and any marijuana paraphernalia legal for adults 21 and older,
• Allow adults to purchase marijuana from approximately 120 retail stores spread throughout the state,
• Give state licenses to 50 suppliers to cultivate and distribute marijuana,
• Establish regulations for packaging and regulating marijuana that would ensure consumers know what they’re buying and that their marijuana is free of any additives or contaminants,
• And generate much-needed tax revenue for Nevada, steering the profits away from drug cartels and the criminal market and into the hands of legitimate state businesses.
The proposal would also implement restrictions to prevent abuse and make it more difficult for minors to obtain marijuana. Retail marijuana stores would be required to check customer IDs and would face significant penalties for selling to minors. Penalties for driving under the influence of marijuana would be maintained. Statewide regulations would protect consumers and retailers from the wrath of local authorities and jurisdictions who might be inclined to adapt unfriendly marijuana policies. And these same regulations would prevent monopoly control of the marijuana market by limiting any single supplier to producing no more than 10 percent of the total supply of marijuana in the state.
This proposal has great potential for 2012. Similar proposals to tax and regulate marijuana in Nevada failed to win majorities in 2002 (39% support) and 2006 (44% support), but each year more and more Nevadans (and Americans in general) come to realize the great failure of marijuana prohibition and the need for better, common sense laws. If these trends continue, it’s a very real possibility that in upcoming years, Nevada and other states will set an example for the rest of the country by finally ending marijuana prohibition and more than 70 years of failed, ineffective and unjust laws.
Many of us in the reform movement have been waiting a long time for a proposal like this one in Nevada. It goes without saying that not every supporter of marijuana policy reform will be happy with every aspect of every proposal. But, in spirit and specifics, this proposal is quite simply the best ever put forward to regulate marijuana – and we at the Marijuana Policy Project hope it can be a shining example of responsible, reasonable and regulated reform that others will follow.
It falls to supporters of marijuana law reform in Nevada and elsewhere to prove to the skeptics that marijuana regulation will be legitimate, that these new businesses will pay taxes and contribute to the state economy, and that users are responsible members of society who simply enjoy and choose to use a recreational substance far safer than alcohol. We still need to convince some of the opposition that it’s not only OK, but vitally important to support these kinds of reforms, and this is something that everyone can help do nationally. Voters in Nevada and elsewhere will assuredly be influenced by what they see on TV and read in newspapers about marijuana issues in states all across the country.
So as we applaud recent victories, and await the day when marijuana prohibition is finally undone, let’s not forget all the work that lies ahead, in terms of national education, public sentiment, and legislative progress. Now, more than ever, in 2010 and the years that follow, we need to keep up the fight.
For more details about Nevada’s 2012 ballot initiative, go to www.SensibleMarijuanaLaws.org