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After November, What's Next For Recreational Marijuana In Nevada?

In November, Nevada voters will head to the polls and decide the fate of marijuana's recreational use in the state. 

Question 2 on the ballot, if passed by the voters, would legalize, regulate and tax recreational marijuana.

The measure is largely expected to pass, and that makes dispensaries, distributors and other business interests happy. It might make a lot of people happy, for that matter.

But some are concerned about what it will mean for public health, use among youth and regulation. 

Dr. John Packham, is the director of health policy research at the Nevada School of Medicine, and says that we should learn from past mistakes with industry regulation of alcohol and tobacco. 

“My concern with the measure is that, as it is written, it doesn’t contain any public health regulation or enforcement teeth,” Packham told KNPR's State of Nevada.

He said the way the ballot measure is worded there is no money earmarked for public health regulation and public health agencies aren't even mentioned in the measure.

Packham said issues like minimizing the drugs availability to young people, funding for people with dependence issues and product safety all need to be accounted for, if the drug is legalized.

“If we make marijuana legal, I think there will need to be some consideration of the unique product that we are now making legal and crafting regulation and code to deal with that reality,” he said.

Nevada is lucky because policy makers and regulators can look to how Washington state and Colorado dealt with the legalization of recreational marijuana.  

Packham said Colorado implemented public health regulations and aligned those across the state government.

“It’s not simply taxation and revenue that’s at the table, it's public health," he said, "It’s education, law enforcement, public safety and so forth.”

Polls show broad support for legalizing marijuana in Nevada, which is why Packham believes the conversation about regulation needs to happen now.

“My concern is there are a lot of smart people betting on the initiative’s passage," he said "We can’t wait until November or thereafter to begin discussing how we’re going to regulate this, if it is ultimately passed by the voters this fall.”

Packham is very concerned that if rules and regulations are not set out for the industry by the state, then it will be up to the industry to police itself. He said a similar thing happened to alcohol and tobacco industry, which he calls a "huge mistake."

He also believes money is need now to start collecting data now on marijuana use. Packham said having a baseline date on use will allow public health officials to track use, if the drug becomes legal in Nevada. 



John Packham, director of health policy research, Nevada School of Medicine

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Joe Schoenmann joined Nevada Public Radio in 2014. He works with a talented team of producers at State of Nevada who explore the casino industry, sports, politics, public health and everything in between.