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Legal Pot Question Still Very Up In The Air

In fewer than two months, Nevada will vote on something that, for some, might be even MORE important than the presidency.

That is, legalizing recreational use of marijuana.

Voters still have lots of questions: Will it help our tourist economy? Will it create a generation of potheads?

In addition, new complicating factors have emerged in the last few weeks. One of those is that a federal appeals court ruled people with a medical marijuana card could be prohibited from buying a gun.

There’s also a sense from interviews we’ve done that some former Republican supporters are now against the initiative because the state's Republican leadership said it would withhold campaign funds if they supported the initiative.  

Las Vegas State Senator Patricia Farley told KNPR's State of Nevada that she had not been told that by the leadership, but she did she had heard of that threat.

"Republican leadership has never said that to me," she said.

Schoenmann: "Not to you, but you've heard it?"

Farley: "I've heard that. I've heard some people... some officials that might have been leaning more that direction, during session and helping on this, have backed away from it. I've heard that that's the reason. But I think Republican leadership has always been very open and honest about the fact that this was not something that they supported."

As for Farley, she believes it is important craft laws and regulations now because really it isn't up to the lawmakers but the voters.

"The voters are going to make a decision and we have a responsibility to be ready to go," she said, "And my concern is that if you spend so much time trying to fight it and not enough time to prepare for it then they're the ones putting us in a black hole here."

Farley also said that if California voters legalize it and Arizona legalizes it, it will be headed our way. 

"It's coming here whether or not we regulate it or not," she said, "Whether or not it's legal. Whether or not we tax it... we've got a problem. We've got to deal with it and we've got to deal with it in the best interest of Nevada."

However, former State Assemblyman Pat Hickey said the legalization and regulation of marijuana is not in the best interest of the state.

"I think from the stand point of public policy it's not going to contribute in a healthy way to the New Nevada," he said.

Hickey believes legalized marijuana will primarily hurt the state's young people, and he believes it will hurt the workforce.

He pointed to the Colorado as an example of that damage.

"In Colorado, drug testing still exists even with legalization and is eliminating a lot of people from the workforce because they're engaging in something that is legal, permissible, acceptable and finding that they're losing jobs." 

He said that trend has been a burden on the social services in the state.  

Initiative supporter State Senator Tick Segerblom believes the opposite will happen in Nevada. He said the legalization of recreational marijuana could bring thousands of jobs to the state and boost our most important industry. 

"I see that it is such a complement to Nevada's big industry, which is tourism," Segerblom said, "About 40 million Californians, if it passes over there, they're not going to want to come to Nevada, if it's legal there and not legal here."

He believes it will have a positive impact on the state's economy with more tourism dollars and more jobs from a large new industry. 

For his part, Hickey said the idea that a legalized pot industry will bring in a lot of easy money did not happen in Colorado. He said when he talked with the head of that state's taxation department, he got a much different story.

"He said, 'for Nevada, the advice I would give it: it will take you much longer than you think, it will be far more complicated than you think and it will be much more costly than you think."

Hickey believes it will be for those reasons that Gov. Brian Sandoval will come out against the measure. 


Pat Hickey, former assemblyman, Nevada State Assembly, State Sen. Tick Segerblom (D - Dist. 3); State Sen. Patricia Farley (R - Dist. 8)

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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.