Political Scientist

Despite the recent chaos, leaders of Nevadans for Responsible Law Enforcement -- the group behind the ballot question that would legalize the possession of three ounces or less of marijuana -- remain optimistic about Question 9's chances come Election Day.

Billy Rogers, the spokesman and leader of NRLE, said the recent controversy over the endorsement-turned-nonendorsement by the Nevada Conference of Police and Sheriffs won't hurt the initiative's chances; if anything, he said, it will help it by showing that the police are divided over the initiative.

And at least one of the state's most prominent political scientists agrees -- on that point and several others.

It's been a tough week for supporters of Question 9, which polls show to be a 50-50 proposition in terms of voter support. NCOPS, a police union umbrella organization, came forward Aug. 6 to endorse Question 9, stunning many observers because law enforcement organizations in Nevada had, up until that point, unanimously condemned the ballot question.

Within days, NCOPS was in shambles. Its president and one of its founders, former Metro officer Andy Anderson, resigned after some law enforcement officials freaked out about the endorsement - and after some NCOPS board members came forward claiming that they did not know what they were actually endorsing. NCOPS then reversed itself and announced that it opposed Question 9. Its credibility was badly damaged.

Rogers blamed the flip-flop on "the storm" caused after the Aug. 6 endorsement. He said he first approached Anderson about a month ago through a common friend. They had a lunch, Rogers said, during which Anderson indicated he supported Question 9. Anderson then said he'd take the matter to the NCOPS board.

"We were happy to receive the endorsement and we were pleasantly surprised by it," Rogers said, calling Anderson "courageous" for taking the steps he did.

Of course, all hell soon broke loose.

Despite NCOPS' current opposition to Question 9, Rogers claims that a "silent majority" of police officers in the state support the initiative - not because they are in favor of marijuana use, but because they spend way too much time arresting people for marijuana possession instead of doing more important things.

And, according to a report -- commissioned by the Nevada Division of Investigation for the 2001 Legislature -- Rogers may just have a point.

Eric Herzik, an associate professor and director of graduate studies in political science at the University of Nevada, Reno, was hired by NDI to head up the Nevada Substance Abuse Report. He said that its numbers clearly show what NRLE has been saying all along: Nevada police spend a lot of time on marijuana possession arrests.

The numbers are striking. Herzik said that in 1999 (the latest statistics available when the report was done), Nevada police made 5,406 arrests for marijuana possession. That's more than the number of arrests for the possession of all other drugs combined (3,550).

Herzik also points out that the number of arrests for more dangerous drugs -- like cocaine and methamphetamine -- go up and down depending on the year, but marijuana arrests have consistently been rising. In 1995, only 2,076 arrests were made for marijuana possession. That number nearly tripled in four years.

Herzik -- who said he had not been contacted by Rogers or anyone else from NRLE -- also said he agreed with Rogers that the NCOPS flip-flop won't hurt Question 9's chances.

"[The flip-flop] undercut some of the support for the marijuana initiative," Herzik said. "But voters will see that even the cops are ambivalent about the issue ... It may give the initiative a slight boost."

Herzik agreed with Rogers on one more point: Law enforcement, especially Metro, has been skirting the legal line on getting involved in political campaigns.

Late last week, as the NCOPS debacle played itself out, Metro Detective Todd Raybuck made several television appearances, most notably CNN's "Crossfire" on Aug. 8. With him, he had six ounces of marijuana from the Metro evidence locker - three loose ounces, and three rolled into joints - to make the point that three ounces is not a small amount of marijuana.

This infuriated Rogers (who also appeared on "Crossfire"), who sent a letter to Sheriff Jerry Keller. His beef: By using government resources unavailable to the public (pot from the evidence locker) and speaking out against Question 9 on government time, Raybuck was getting involved in a political campaign on the taxpayers' dime.

"We have to report all of our contributions and expenditures as a political action committee. We aren't allowed to use government resources," Rogers said. "At minimum, [Raybuck's actions] are unfair. At maximum, they're against state law."

Rogers said that aside from the letter to Keller asking him to forbid Raybuck and others from campaigning against Question 9 on work time, he would take no further action.

Raybuck's actions are borderline, if not illegal and unethical, Herzik agreed. He said a law enforcement union or organization taking action during non-work hours is one thing; this is another.

"Law enforcement is supposed to enforce the law, not make the law," Herzik said. "This is one of those things that is right on the margin."

Raybuck told the Las Vegas Review-Journal that he went on "Crossfire" at the direction of Undersheriff Dick Winget and that the pot was used "for the training and education of the public." Winget told the Las Vegas Sun that they did not seek the attention, but they were simply responding to media requests.

But it's doubtful that Metro would have allowed Rogers to get pot from the locker at the request of the media to educate the public on how much three ounces of weed is. Although it would be fun to see him try.

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