My continuing travels to some of the more interesting marijuana legalization events around the country (and one coming up in Jamaica) brought me this past weekend to Las Vegas to attend the 2nd Annual Las Vegas Hempfest on Saturday.
The Las Vegas Hempfest, which licensed the name from the original Seattle Hempfest, was held outside the city’s convention center with two stages, lots of good music, and scores of industry exhibitors. Tommy Chong was the star of the show, and received a lifetime achievement award from the Hempfest organizers.
Our friends at Freedom Leaf, who were co-sponsors of the event this year, were in charge of lining up speakers for the day-long series of policy panels that were held a short walk away, inside the convention center. Most attendees, of course, are there to party and enjoy the music, but some are also interested in learning more about the issue of legalizing marijuana, and how that change in policy will impact the culture.
The topics this year included medical/nutritional issues, a nursing panel, cultivation techniques, an industry/finance panel, a media panel and an activism panel. I was pleased to be on a legal penal with Freedom Leaf co-founder Richard Cowan (also a NORML board member and a former NORML national director); and San Diego attorney Ken Sobel.
The event showcased all things marijuana, and provided those in the soon-to-be-legal marijuana market in Nevada (medical use is already legal, and the first few dispensaries have recently opened) an opportunity to introduce their newest products and services, and to begin to build, or extend the reach of their brand to yet another state in a growing list of pot-friendly venues.
Las Vegas, the destination with the nickname of “Sin City” and the slogan of “what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas,” suggesting that tourists can enjoy more personal freedom here than in their home town, including gambling and other sometimes naughty options, seems like a natural environment for marijuana legalization. And with a good voter turnout in November of 2016, the state will finally live-up to its reputation.
Tithing To Benefiting NORML
And I would be remiss not to thank the event’s sponsors for generously donating to NORML a dollar from each ticket sold to this event. It was their way of thanking NORML for the decades of hard work that made it possible to finally achieve these recent political successes, an example of tithing that one would hope will be adopted by many more players in the new Green Rush over the coming months and years.
It requires resources to end prohibition, and to enact new laws, either by voter initiative (in those states that offer that option) or legislatively, and these new businesses that are profiting from legalization have a moral obligation to invest a little of those profits back into the movement, and the groups, that have made these changes possible.
So as we head into 2016, the year that should be the breakout year for legalization, let’s continue the strategy that has brought us to where we are today – a state-based strategy that with each new legalization state brings additional support in Congress – and that will, within a few years, permit us to repeal federal prohibition as well, leaving the states free to enact whatever marijuana policy they want, without federal interference.
Full Legalization On the Nevada Ballot in 2016
The sponsors of the Nevada legalization initiative, the Campaign To Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol in Nevada, have already gathered the required number of signatures and have been assured of a place on the 2016 November ballot.
Under the proposal, effective January 1, 2017, it would be legal for an adult to possess one ounce of marijuana and, if they live further than 25 miles from a licensed retail outlet, to cultivate up to six plants in the home. And starting in 2018, there would be retail outlets where consumers could legally purchase their marijuana and marijuana products.
Unnecessary Restrictions on Home Cultivation
This unfortunate 25-miles requirement before one is allowed to grow their own marijuana shows the influence the newly legal marijuana industry is beginning to have in the legalization movement. Of course retail sellers would prefer that all marijuana users purchase their marijuana from one of the licensed stores, but unless polling shows the inclusion of home-cultivation would cause the proposal to fail, personal cultivation is a right that adult consumers should have. Most will not elect to spend the time and resources required to grow their own pot, but having that option will keep the industry responsive to the legitimate needs of consumers for a product that is high quality, safe and affordable.
Commercial Licensing Starting in 2018
Other provisions of the initiative would, beginning in 2018, license commercial growers, kitchens, testing facilities, distributors and retailers. Those currently holding medical marijuana retail licensees would for 18 months be the only parties eligible to apply for a retail recreational license; and, in a new twist not seen before, those holding a current alcohol distribution license would have a similar 18-month period during which only they would be eligible for a marijuana distribution license!
The initiative would impose a 15 percent excise tax, on top of the existing 6.5 percent sales tax (and the possibility of up to an 1.25 local tax), and local governments would retain their right to impose zoning restrictions on marijuana businesses.
So obviously this is another example of the growing influence of the newly legal marijuana industry. It is fair to say the pending legalization proposal in Nevada is slanted more to please the industry, than it is to please the consumer.
Not Perfect, But A Big Step Forward
But as NORML has done with previous legalization initiatives, all of which include some disappointing provisions, so long as the initiative ends marijuana prohibition and stops the practice of arresting marijuana smokers, and establishes a legal market where consumers can buy their marijuana, we will almost certainly support the Nevada proposal, warts and all.
And we will be back, once it has passed, to try to make further improvements to assure that marijuana consumers are treated fairly in all areas of their lives, including ending job discrimination, resolving child custody issues and requiring a showing of impairment for a DUID conviction. Policy change occurs incrementally, and it requires commitment and persistence.
If we should hold-out for the perfect law (and we would differ on what a perfect law would look like), the criminal prohibition of marijuana would continue for many more years, along with the continued arrests of hundreds of thousands of marijuana smokers each year.
This column originally was posted on Marijuana.com.