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Question 2: Is Legalized Adult Use Of Marijuana Right For Nevada?

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Associated Press

Tuesday, Nevada voters will decide whether to join states such as Colorado and Washington that have legalized the adult use of marijuana.

Nevada and California are among five states this election cycle with marijuana legalization on their ballots.

In its entirety, it could prove to be one of the most consequential shifts in U.S. drug policy since the 1930s.

Polls show Nevadans are split on the issue, however, with recent numbers showing a slim margin of support at 47 percent.

“The whole point of this law is to take adults over 21 and give them the freedom to consume marijuana in the privacy of their own homes,” said Joe Brezny, the chair of the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana like Alcohol. 

However, opponents to the measure view it differently. 

“What we seeing here is something that says: we’re going to set up an industry to market and sell pot candies, pot chocolates, high-potency pot concentrates," said Jeff Zinsmeister, the executive vice president of Smart Approaches to Marijuana, "It’s not just letting a guy smoke a joint in his basement on a Friday night.”

On KNPR's State of Nevada the two sides had a lively debate. At one point, both sides cited studies about marijuana use among young people in Colorado - one showing it had gone up and one showing it had gone down

Support comes from

For Zinsmeister and his group, it is not about whether someone should be allowed to smoke marijuana in the privacy of his or her own home. He said the bigger concern is the creation of an industry.

The difference, he says, is between decriminalization and commercialization.

“Our group doesn’t believe it is a good idea, from a public health standpoint, to let for-profit industries promote consumption through advertising, and edibles and concentrates,” he said.

Zinsmeister said the Big Marijuana industry will target kids with pot candy and other edibles, much the way Big Tobacco targeted kids with cartoons in its advertising.

"It’s one thing to say: People shouldn’t go to jail," he said, "It’s another to say:We should have an industry out there actively advertising on billboards and in newspapers pot candies." 

While Brezny agrees that children should not be allowed access to marijuana, he disagrees that the marijuana industry would target them. In fact, he argues a regulated system would help guard against use by children. 

“The system we have now absolutely stinks at keeping this away from our kids, because the system we have now provides an incentive to criminal gangs and drug cartels who don’t check ID, who don’t check the purity of their products, who don’t have lab tested products that are safe,” he said.

Brezny said that a system which regulates everything from growing to distribution is a better plan. Plus, he said, those opposed to legalized marijuana don't offer much in a way to fix the current system.

“They don’t answer the question: what’s your plan? Because their plan is this. This failure," he said,  "And that’s the picture they’re painting is this failure of marijuana prohibition is a better way. It’s laughable. It doesn’t even make sense.”

Brezny also argues that while those opposed to regulated marijuana believe it will allow the drug into the community he said it is already here and needs to be regulated.

Zinsmeister said the push to regulate the drug is not about social justice or personal liberty but is really about a few companies making a lot of money. And while some would argue that is how capitalism works, Zinsmeister said marijuana is not a typical product. 

“We’re not talking about oven mitts," he said, "We’re talking about addictive substances."

The question of money is a big one for this issue. Supporters have said it will create millions in tax revenue, something Zinsmeister disputes. 

Besides the possible tax revenue, another issue that arose is out-of-state support for the opposing sides.

Brezny said most of the contributions for his group have come from local supporters, but he said the money for the opposition comes from casino magnate Sheldon Adelson.

“This is a pet project from one billionaire,” he said.

According to the Las Vegas Review-Journal, Adelson gave $1.35 million to the group Protecting Nevada's Children, a political action committee opposing the marijuana proposal. 

Zinsmeister said his group did not get money from Adelson. 

If Question 2 passes, Brezny said it will probably be July 2017 when people will be able to legally buy recreational marijuana in a retail setting, but people will be allowed to legally posses it starting in January.

If it doesn't pass, Brezny said he would continue to fight to get the drug legalized. 

As for Zinsmeister, if it passes he said his group will continue to make sure the industry is held accountable. 

“We do our best to make sure this doesn’t turn into the next Big Tobacco,” he said.

Guests

Joe Brezny, chair, Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol; Jeff Zinsmeister, executive vice president, Smart Approaches to Marijuana 

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