Mike Zigler

A Little Louder

Progressive democrats are Dennis Kucinich and Howard Dean types – peace-loving, PATRIOT Act-hating, environment-embracing Americans who take firm, left-wing stances. While a minority voice, theirs elevates debate – at least when the diffident Democratic Party listens to them.

Like most niche voting blocks, progressives understand their importance in this election. But they won't simply jump on a wagon led by mainstream positions. This gang has spine.

"The progressive vote is not going to go away," said Diana Smith, who along with her husband organized the Nevada Progressive Democratic Caucus. "But if the Democratic Party doesn't listen, the progressive vote will go green or independent, and we saw what that did in 2000."

At a central committee meeting last spring, democrats were introducing planks to build Nevada's platform. Smith and husband Raj Rathor were astonished that no one even mentioned the war in Iraq, the PATRIOT Act or universal single-pay health care.

So, Rathor did.

The meeting didn't exactly boost Smith and Rathor's confidence with the party. But the couple did not want to discontinue participation, as defeating Bush is too important.

So when Smith came across progressivevote.org, the Website of a national organization to unite the progressive base behind the Democratic Party, she and Rathor formed NPDC. Progressive Vote, now three months old, is 10,000 members strong and 200 locally.

On July 3, the group hosted a peace rally at Freedom Park. Also, the NPDC circulated four petitions: one to repeal the PATRIOT Act, another to replace U.S. troops with U.N. peacekeepers, a third to establish universal health care and another to establish equal civil rights to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Americans.

Nearly 300 signatures were sent to Miami, along with others from around the country, for the platform committee meeting July 10. There, the party developed its planks – and gave progressives a familiar cold shoulder.

Except for one minor amendment, progressive platforms lacked support for passage and even debate. The democrats took no position on justice in Palestine, a department of peace and a scaled-back military. The democratic platform also doesn't call for the United States to leave Iraq immediately.

In Nevada, progressives have experienced the same attitude. NPDC has rallied behind four local candidates: Rick DeVoe and Brian Kral for Congress, Rosa Mendoza for state assembly and Robert Taylor for county commission.

DeVoe, vying for Republican Jon Porter's seat, must first clear the primary hurdle against Tom Gallagher. Party leaders already back Gallagher, which dumbfounds DeVoe and other members of the NPDC. A former CEO of Park Place Entertainment, Gallagher gave $2,000 to the Bush-Cheney campaign in November.

"I don't think there is anyway around the fact that when somebody gives the maximum contribution to a candidate, you support that individual's agenda and what they stand for," said DeVoe, who assumes the party didn't know about the contribution before it offered support.

"The contribution was very simple and straight forward," Gallagher said. "A friend asked me to buy a ticket with him to a Bush lunch, and as a favor to him I did.

"I've given money repeatedly to the Democratic Party and democratic candidates in each election cycle," he added.

DeVoe further points to Gallagher's former position as a CEO.

"Tom Gallagher represents corporate America, and looks at things from an old bottom-line standpoint," said DeVoe, a journeyman mechanic. "I represent a new bottom line, and that's putting people first, not profits."

Democratic support for Gallagher destroys progressive confidence, Kral added. Even the democrat he's up against, Shelley Berkley, is questionable, he added. She voted for the PATRIOT Act and the war in Iraq.

Berkley has since admitted that she was duped by President Bush to believe Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction. But that raises another concern for Kral.

"That doesn't give me a lot of confidence in her judgment," he said.

Kral understands how difficult it will be to defeat Berkley in the primary election. After all, he walks District 1. That, and he has mingled with other democratic organizations.

At a meeting among Paradise Democratic Club members, Kral introduced himself as a candidate running for Congress. Kral said John Ponticello, longtime president of the organization, pulled him aside and said the group is disappointed that a democrat is running against another democrat – Berkley.

Kral explained that Ann Reynolds, a member of Ponticello's organization, is also challenging Berkley. Ponticello expressed disappointment with her also.

"I thought that was pretty chilling," Kral said. "That's the attitude that took us into Iraq – the fact we can't speak up for different ideas and we can't debate or have a discourse. We are expected to be quiet and follow the party line."

Mendoza's experience mirrors Kral's.

"I'm painted as the more liberal one," Mendoza said. "Although I've had pretty positive feedback, I'm getting the sense that the Democratic Party tends to keep a lot of its more progressive ideas watered down."

Like Kral and DeVoe, disappointment struck Mendoza regarding organization endorsement processes. A UNLV graduate, Mendoza is a high school teacher. When she registered as a candidate, she figured the Nevada State Education Association might take an interest in her District 28 campaign.

Not so.

NSEA already endorsed Moises Denis, a computer network technician and former executive director of the Nevada Parent Teacher Association.

"I felt it was unfair that they made these decisions before we filed," Mendoza said. "Who would know more about education than an educator?"

Kral is an intructor at the Community College of Southern Nevada and his wife is a second grade teacher. He thought NSEA might consider him. But the teacher's union announced its endorsements in early May. The filing deadline for candidates was May 14.

The AFL-CIO, as well, didn't pay attention to one of its members – DeVoe.

While the primary isn't until Sept. 7, most organizations and party leaders are backing candidates in all four races that NPDC candidates are in – Gallagher, Berkley, Denis and David Goldwater for county commission.

The deadline to register to vote in the primaries is Aug. 7. Smith called awareness of this date crucial to the success of underdog candidates.

"Most who vote in the primaries are die hards and that's why the same people keep going back to office," Smith said. "The regular Joe doesn't realize that you have to register for the primaries early."

NPDC members believe the party and its leaders should wait until the people pick their candidates in the primary election before support is given. But many democrats feel Nevada's primary election is too deep into the year and too close to the general election. Backing a candidate early in a race gives momentum for the party to defeat Republicans.

Referencing Ed Bernstein, who unsuccessfully challenged John Ensign for U.S. Senate in 2000, caucus member Roger Ko said early backing of candidates with money doesn't always work, especially when their positions aren't clear.

"It's a sad story that whoever has the most money gets the nomination," Ko said.

While progressives may be viewed as divisive, Smith assures they are not. "We simply want to build the party, but we are not going to be afraid to speak up."

A progressive candidate forum takes place Aug. 14 from 7:00 to 10:00 p.m. in the Laborer's Hall located at 4201 E. Bonanza, Las Vegas.

Medical Pot Comes to Nevada

Pierre Werner has a (hazy) vision. He's a medical marijuana provider, and wants to create Nevada's first compassion club for the product's users -- and not even the law will get in his way of creating it.

"I've been doing this all my life -- providing medical marijuana even before it was considered medical," he says.

Werner is the president of Primary Caregivers and Consultants, a company he created to provide medical marijuana to patients and offer physician-approved recommendations. He also consults attorneys and physicians on Nevada's Medical Marijuana Program. Currently he services 15 patients, eight of whom are registered with the Department of Agriculture's Medical Marijuana Program.

"After seeing so many dying patients in pain, I felt obligated to do something," he says, adding that he is not considered a caregiver since the state only allows one patient per caregiver.

One thing Werner can be considered is ballsy. Even though compassion clubs are prohibited in Nevada, he's going to open shop no matter what. Through the club, Werner will recommend physicians, caregivers and recipes for growing medical marijuana, as well as provide the product. All he needs to get his compassion club started is more patients, which really means more money.

The way he's going to operate his club is what will make it work, Werner says. Instead of being located in one place, his operation will be mobile.

When the Nevada Legislature initially envisioned a state medical marijuana program, it considered using a single state agency to distribute marijuana to qualified patients (according to Nevada Lawyer, which is published by the State Bar of Nevada). But after examining the medical marijuana programs in California and Oregon, the preferred course of action the state decided on left the supply and distribution "in the hands of patients," meaning a patient's plant can be shared with other patients, Werner explains.

The problem California cannabis clubs had with raids by federal agents discouraged the creation of a single agency. So instead of taking responsibility for supplying medical pot to patients from a central location, Nevada just said it's fine to smoke up with a doctor's note -- but where a patient finds this medicine is the patient's responsibility. A patient can grow it, but the state can't provide.

That's where Werner comes in.

"Supply and distribution matters are left to us," he says. "So as a patient, I should be able to provide to my fellow patients. Instead of the streets, I want to provide a safe environment for these people."

One of the significant aspects of Nevada's medical marijuana law is that a person who is legitimately engaged in or assisting in marijuana's medical use may raise an "affirmative defense" to certain criminal charges such as possession or distribution, according to Nevada Lawyer. This applies to any caregiver or patient regardless of whether that person is registered with the DOA.

And that affirmative defense is what Werner says protects medical marijuana providers.

"Say I'm not a patient and just an average Joe selling marijuana. If I sell to a medical marijuana patient, I cannot be charged with selling to that patient because that is now medical marijuana," he explains. "The average Joe is protected from certain charges."

A patient has the right to grow marijuana; and Werner says that if a patient grows too much, that person should be able to sell the excess. Werner sells his medical marijuana based on stress. Mexican stress sells for $80 to $100 per ounce and hydroponic stress goes for $300 to $350 an ounce.

"That's a legitimate use of medical marijuana," Werner says. "I tell my patients that if they grow too much, they can sell to me and I'll sell to the other patients."

But Jennifer Bartlett, program manager of Nevada's Medical Marijuana Program, says there is a limit to how much a patient can grow, and what is grown can't be sold. Under state law, a patient can have up to seven marijuana plants, Bartlett says.

"A patient can have four immature plants, three mature plants and an ounce of smoke-able marijuana under Nevada law," she says, explaining that a mature plant by the state's definition is a plant whose bud can be seen with the naked eye. "What a patient grows is just for their use."

Bartlett made it clear that the DOA is not affiliated with Werner's operation. And Werner, a registered DOA patient with a bipolar condition, wanted it made clear that since a patient cannot be a caregiver, he isn't one. He's simply a provider.

So, what's the difference?

If a DOA-registered patient is extremely sick, the patient can opt to have a caregiver care for them and their medical marijuana. That person -- usually the spouse or a family member of the patient -- must also register with the DOA.

Successful registration occurs after the patient's physician approves the applicant, who can never have been convicted of selling a controlled substance. Also, the person must sign a waiver acknowledging an understanding of the program and that they won't hold the state responsible for any delirious outcomes (such as a car accident while under the influence). Currently, there are 216 patients and 24 caregivers registered in Nevada, says Bartlett.

Werner says DOA registration is unnecessary because of affirmative defense, which protects anyone distributing to a patient.

"Approval from a medical doctor is all a patient and caregiver need to be legally recognized by the state and be afforded the same protections under affirmative defense," he says.

But there is one thing Werner wants understood -- all his clients are doctor-approved.

"I don't mess with recreational marijuana. I only sell medical marijuana."

Medical marijuana patients can contact Werner at 702-328-4420.

Mike Zigler is a CityLife staff writer.

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