Nevada Lawmakers Pass Marijuana Defelonization Bill and Medical Marijuana Bill

In one fell swoop, Nevada lawmakers have taken a giant stride away from some of the nation's toughest marijuana laws and voted to implement the nation's newest medical marijuana program. The state assembly voted Monday to approve a bill that does both; the state senate had already approved the measure. Gov. Kenny Guinn is expected to sign the bill, according to reports in the Associated Press and the New York Times.

The single bill combines the disparate issues of medical and recreational marijuana use into one marijuana law reform package. Under current Nevada law, possession of any amount of marijuana for any reason is a felony offense, although it is usually plea-bargained down to a misdemeanor. But medical marijuana advocates managed to twice win ballot votes on a medical marijuana constitutional amendment, in 1998 and last November, leaving the legislature only to write the law implementing the will of the voters. At the same time, Democratic Assemblywoman Chris Giunchigliani (D-Las Vegas) had been pushing to reduce the state's marijuana possession felony to misdemeanor status.

For possession of small amounts of marijuana, a first offense will be a misdemeanor with a fine, a second offense could make the defendant subject to treatment and a higher fine, a third offense is a gross (more serious) misdemeanor, and a fourth possession offense could be charged as a felony. Although the fourth offense felony provision was added as an amendment in the Senate, Giunchigliani did not oppose it.

Under the bill's medical marijuana provisions, the state Agriculture Department and Department of Motor Vehicles will issue medical marijuana registry cards to patients with qualifying medical conditions -- including AIDS and cancer -- and a physician's recommendation. Patients will be allowed to grow up to seven plants in their homes.

Unlike Colorado, where state officials have urged the federal government to arrest medical marijuana patients protected by state law, Nevada officials have limited themselves to some apologetic language attached in a preamble to the bill. The unhappy lawmakers noted dangers of marijuana abuse, but said Nevada as "a sovereign state has the duty to carry out the will of the people."

"Every legislator had to grapple with this," Senate Human Resources Chairman Ray Rawson (R-Las Vegas) told the Las Vegas Review-Journal. "The people put this in the constitution and asked us to do it."

The bill would also direct the University of Nevada School of Medicine to aggressively seek federal approval of a medical marijuana research program.

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