CARSON CITY, Nev. — Seriously ill patients should be able to use marijuana for medical purposes, Nevada lawmakers decided Monday, in a vote that puts the state on a potential collision course with the federal government.
The Assembly vote on the last day of the legislative session also relaxes one of the toughest drug possession laws in the nation, downgrading the charge for possession of small amounts from a felony to a misdemeanor.
The state Assembly concurred in Senate amendments to the medical marijuana-defelonization bill and sent the measure to Gov. Kenny Guinn, who is expected to sign it.
“I think it’s time that Nevada closed the door on antiquated drug policies and reduced possession of an ounce or less to a misdemeanor and focused its efforts on prevention and treatment,” said Assemblywoman Chris Giunchigliani, D-Las Vegas.
The bill lets seriously ill Nevadans have up to seven marijuana plants for personal use. A state registry would be created for patients whose doctors recommend they use marijuana for medical reasons.
Other amendments allow the state to apply to the federal government for permission to sponsor medical research into whether marijuana helped ease pain, nausea or other symptoms of seriously ill patients.
Also, the state Department of Agriculture could apply to the federal government for a seed lab.
For people other than registered patients, possession of an ounce or less of marijuana would be a misdemeanor carrying a $600 fine, with escalating fines for subsequent offenses. Possession would not become a felony until the fourth offense.
Under current law, regarded as one of the toughest of its kind in the nation, Nevada makes it a felony to possess an ounce or less of marijuana. Violations can lead to prison terms.
In a minor marijuana case, probation is mandatory, but violating probation can lead to prison terms of up to four years.
Nevadans voted overwhelmingly in 1998 and 2000 to amend the Nevada Constitution to authorize use of marijuana by those suffering from cancer, AIDS, glaucoma and other painful and potentially terminal illnesses.
The task of implementing the voters’ mandate was left to the Legislature. The lawmakers took action despite a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling in a California case that a federal law classifying the drug as illegal makes no exception for ill patients.
The high court’s action leaves those distributing the drug for that purpose open to prosecution
Besides Nevada, voters in Arizona, Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Oregon and Washington have approved ballot initiatives allowing medical marijuana. In Hawaii, the legislature passed a similar law and the governor signed it last year.
On the Net:
Nevada Legislature: http://www.leg.state.nv.us/