In a sign that 2016 could be the biggest year ever for marijuana reform, Nevada became the first state to put legalization on the ballot for that year’s election.
At the end of March, lawmakers had failed to stop a petition filed by pot proponents who want to legalize the drug for recreational use. That means the initiative will appear on the ballot in November 2016.
Advocates praised the state for moving ahead with a legalization vote.
“Voters will have the opportunity to end marijuana prohibition next year and replace it with a policy that actually makes sense,” said Mason Tvert, spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project. “Regulating marijuana like alcohol will make Nevada safer by replacing the underground marijuana market with a tightly controlled system of licensed businesses.”
If the initiative passes, adults over 21 would be allowed to possess up to 1 ounce of marijuana for personal use. It would also provide for regulation and taxation of a retail pot industry.
Police could focus on serious crimes
Tvert said the proposal would allow police to focus on serious crimes rather than targeting petty cannabis offences. It would also be a boon for the state, he said.
“The initiative will create a significant new source of funding for Nevada schools,” Tvert said. “Marijuana sales that are currently taking place in the underground market are generating revenue for cartels. In a regulated market, marijuana sales will generate revenue for students.”
Activists submitted their petition late last year, after collecting roughly 200,000 signatures, nearly twice the number required by state election law. Nevada is now the first state to slate a legalization vote for the next election.
Lawmakers failed to reject the petition
Lawmakers had until March 21 to reject the petition but adjourned a day early without casting a vote. Under Nevada election laws, the lack of action by the state Legislature clears the initiative to appear on the ballot.
If Nevadans approve the idea at the polls next year, the state would join four others that currently allow legal weed: Oregon, Alaska, Colorado, and Washington State. Washington, D.C., also legalized the drug in a vote last year, but the specifics of that law remain in some doubt.
Nevada has long been on a shortlist of states most likely to legalize by the end of the decade. In many ways it’s a perfect battleground for legalization. Like Alaska, Nevada has a fierce libertarian streak; it’s the only place in the United States where prostitution is legal, so cannabis reform isn’t much of a stretch.
Under the initiative, marijuana regulation would fall under the Nevada Department of Taxation, which would license marijuana growers, manufacturers, testers, sellers and distributors. The agency would collect a 15 percent excise tax on wholesale pot transactions, money that would go toward public education. Standard local and state sales taxes would also apply.