State legislators overwhelmingly approved legislation this week to dramatically reduce Nevada's toughest-in-the-nation marijuana law and authorize pot's medical use. Nevada's legislature is the first in 24 years to eliminate jail time and criminal records for minor marijuana offenders, and the ninth state since 1996 to legalize the use of medical marijuana under a doctor's supervision.
"Assembly Bill 453 was crafted to do three things," said sponsor Christina Giunchigliani (D-Las Vegas). "Implement the will of the people; provide compassionate medical aid to the chronically ill, and establish a rational drug policy focused on treatment - not jail."
Giunchigliani's proposal, which now awaits action by Gov. Kenny Guinn (R), reduces penalties for the possession of up to one ounce of marijuana from a felony (punishable by up to four years in jail) to a fine-only misdemeanor for first and second-time offenders. No criminal record shall be imposed on offenders until their third offense. Eleven states have similar marijuana decriminalization laws.
Nevada is the only state that currently defines first-time possession of even one marijuana cigarette as a felony offense.
Assembly Bill 453 also legalizes the use of medical marijuana by patients who have their physician's approval to use it. State voters approved a constitutional amendment in 1998 and 2000 mandating the legislature to legalize the use of medicinal marijuana. Giunchigliani's bill allows qualified patients to grow up to seven marijuana plants for medical purposes and establishes a confidential patient registry. Additionally, it allows patients who possess amounts greater than those specified by law to raise an affirmative defense of medical necessity before a jury.
"The State of Nevada, as a sovereign state, has the duty to carry out the will of the people of this state and regulate the health, medical practices and well-being of those people in a manner that respects their personal decisions concerning the relief of suffering through the medical use of marijuana," legislators affirmed in the measure's preamble.
A separate provision added to the bill requires the Nevada School of Medicine to "aggressively" seek federal approval to implement a medical marijuana distribution program in which both marijuana and marijuana seeds would be made available to patients.
Governor Guinn has ten days to sign the bill, which will take effect October 1, 2001.
For more information, please contact Keith Stroup, NORML Executive Director, or Paul Armentano at (202) 483-5500.