CARSON CITY, Nev. (AP) - If Nevada voters want to legalize marijuana, they're going to have to do it themselves.
An Assembly panel declined to vote Thursday on an initiative petition that would have legalized possession of one ounce of marijuana, and the non-vote automatically puts the issue on the November 2006 ballot.
In 2002, Nevada voters rejected a petition to legalize up to three ounces of marijuana by a 61-39 margin. The latest proposal would put the legal limit an adult could possess at one ounce.
The drug could be sold by state-licensed sellers, located no closer than 500 feet from churches and schools. The petition also levies heavy taxes on drug users, and double penalties for driving under the influence of any substance.
"It's time for new approach," said Rob Kampia, head of the Washington D.C.-based Marijuana Policy Project. "If you don't like (drug dealers), put them out of business. We don't have people peddling alcohol on street corners."
Kampia's group has been involved in legalization efforts in Maine, Vermont, Colorado, Washington and Alaska, where a similar petition was rejected by voters in November.
Supporters of the petition faced a wall of opposition in the Nevada Assembly, which is led by a police officer and candidate for governor who was quick to declare the petition dead on arrival.
"Marijuana will not be legalized on my watch," Assembly Speaker Richard Perkins, D-Henderson, said in testimony before the Assembly Judiciary Committee. Perkins labeled marijuana "a gateway drug" and said its legalization would "absolutely without question" lead to increased drug use.
In 2000, Nevada became one of 10 states to legalize marijuana for medical use. Perkins said he supported that initiative and said his son, a cancer survivor, has used cannabis-based medication in his recovery.
Backers of the petition argued that it would ease overcrowding in prisons, take away the drug's "forbidden fruit" appeal and generate money for the state. They said they'd learned from the mistakes that led to the 2002 defeat of the 3-ounce proposal in Nevada.
"When we did focus groups and polling asking a series of questions about how the public wants to handle marijuana, people wanted to get really serious about dangerous drivers and they wanted to get really serious about selling pot to kids," Kampia said.
The initiative would make it illegal for anyone 18 years old or older to sell to minors. More than 69,000 Nevadans signed the petition.
Starting with Perkins, a series of law enforcement officials lined up against the bill. They took issue with the notion that enforcement of marijuana laws was diverting officers' attention from more serious, violent crime, and that marijuana offenders were clogging up jails and prisons. People caught with small amounts of marijuana are most often ticketed, not arrested, they said.
The law enforcement representatives also characterized the initiative as bad policy backed by outsiders.
"I've been a prosecutors for 18 years," said Clark County District Attorney David Roger. "I can tell you unequivocally we do not need dope smokers walking the streets of Clark County or anywhere else in the state with impunity. It is somewhat offensive to me, as a citizen of this state, to hear from people who do not even reside in the state ... to come in here and tell us how to enforce our laws."
The initiative found no support on the Judiciary Committee.
Assemblyman William Horne, D-Las Vegas, said he was skeptical of evidence showing a link between marijuana and harder drugs, but he was concerned that if the initiative passed it would conflict with federal statutes.
"Send it to people," Horne said. "Ultimately, they're going to be the ones who have to deal with the issue that was never addressed, the federal enforcement issue."