February 22, 2004 - The Las Vegas Review-Journal (NV)

High Times

By Steve Sebelius

You could be excused for thinking that the Committee to Regulate and Control Marijuana was formed only to "establish a comprehensive system of strict regulation to reduce or eliminate teenage access to marijuana, driving under the influence of marijuana, and the smoking of marijuana in public places." After all, it sounds strict.

But read further, and you'll get to the heart of the matter: If the committee's proposed state constitutional amendment passes, those age 21 or older will be allowed to toke up, so long as they do it in private, buy the drug only at an authorized retailer and don't drive under the influence.

Deceptive? Not really, especially after the whoppers that were leveled against the ill-fated 2002 amendment that would have legalized up to 3 ounces of marijuana. In that campaign, a deputy district attorney outrageously claimed drug cartels were funding the legalization effort ( and then lied about his remark ). The number of joints opponents said could be rolled from 3 ounces of marijuana expanded -- loaves and fishes style -- until we were very nearly told that 3 ounces could get every man, woman, child and household pet in Nevada high for a year. ( Excluding fish, of course. )

This time around, the proponents have learned their lesson. The new constitutional amendment is tailor-made to overcome each and every objection that was lodged against the effort last time.

Three ounces is too much, as one feckless politician after another claimed when asked to -- damn the media! -- take a stand on the measure? Try 1 ounce, then.

People will drive under the influence, as one did in the tragic traffic accident that killed Las Vegas Sun Vice President Sandy Thompson? This measure would make the DUI laws stricter, with a five-years-to-life prison sentence and fine of up to $20,000 for anyone convicted of vehicular manslaughter while under the influence of marijuana, alcohol or any other drug. That's tough.

Drug dealers will prosper if marijuana is legalized? This measure would establish a one-to-10-year prison sentence and fine of up to $10,000 for anybody over 18 who sells marijuana to a minor. ( Under the proposed amendment, only tobacco retailers that don't also sell booze would be authorized to sell marijuana, and only if they are more than 500 yards from a church or school. )

More kids will smoke marijuana if it's legalized? Hardly. According to the drug czar's own report, "more than 67 percent of Nevada high school seniors report using marijuana at least once in their lives." At that rate, there's not many kids left to take up the habit.

The problem in trying to answer the critics is twofold. First, it was not the amount of marijuana, or the flaws in the law regarding its use, to which the prohibitionists objected. It was the very notion of legalization.

No matter how many logical, reasonable arguments are made to legalize marijuana ( and there are precious few reasons to keep it illegal ) for some it's simply inconceivable. They would rather live with the inherent contradictions of the law as well as the excesses of the war on drugs rather than admit defeat.

And two, if the prohibitionists were willing to stretch the truth to their own ends last time, they're not suddenly going to play fair this time. There will still be lies, exaggerations and the inevitable visit of drug czar John Walters, campaigning at taxpayer expense. But the Committee to Regulate and Control Marijuana still has the right idea, no matter the changes made to persuade voters that prohibition doesn't work.

Maybe this time, the voters will see that.

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