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Nevada bill paves way for medical pot dispensaries

Monday - 6/3/2013, 8:51pm  ET

MATT WOOLBRIGHT
Associated Press

CARSON CITY, Nev. (AP) -- Thirteen years ago, voters amended the Nevada Constitution to legalize the use of medical marijuana, but there has been no way of legally getting the drug in the state aside from growing it at home. The Legislature acted to change that Monday, advancing a proposal that would pave the way for dispensaries.

The Assembly voted 28-14 to pass the bill, which still needs a final procedural approval from the Senate. It then heads to Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval, who has said he will consider it.

"It's time," said Sen. Tick Segerblom, D-Las Vegas, the measure's primary sponsor. "People that are sick and need it -- they'll be able to buy it, and they don't need to worry about violating the law."

The bill, SB374, establishes the framework to make pot available to medical marijuana card holders, imposing fees and requirements for growers, processors and dispensaries of pot. It also contains provisions to continue to allow home-growing until 2016.

The taxes raised first would fund the regulatory structure for the state, and any remaining balance would go to education.

Nevada voters legalized medical marijuana in 2000 and a year later were able to obtain medical marijuana cards. However, legislative efforts to create a legal way for users to obtain the drug -- aside from growing a small number of plants at home -- have all failed over the years. The bill's tax components required a two-thirds supermajority vote in both houses -- meaning the Assembly Democrats needed at least one Republican on board to get the measure passed.

"Medical marijuana was approved by Nevadans, and I'm proud to be the deciding vote to implement what has been lacking since the vote," Assemblywoman Michele Fiore, R-Las Vegas, told The Associated Press.

With a gubernatorial signature of approval, Nevada will become the 14th state to have medical marijuana dispensaries, according to the National Conference on State Legislatures. Currently, 19 states and the District of Columbia allow medical marijuana use, and Illinois has passed a bill legalizing medicinal pot that is awaiting the governor's signature.

"We did a good job today, and I am proud of it," said Assemblywoman Peggy Pierce, D-Las Vegas. "We finally did what the voters asked us to do. Better late than never."

Pierce has missed portions of this session as she battles cancer, but she said she wasn't going to miss this vote. Without her, the effort likely might have failed.

"For sure, my being here made a difference," Pierce said.

Republican floor leader Assemblyman Pat Hickey of Reno told his peers he opposed the bill because of a fear of the social consequences, but said it would financially benefit the state.

"Unscrupulous doctors and physicians are going to find a new clientele, and we're going to have also a number of willing participants in that -- many of them young -- who will take advantage of this bill," Hickey said.

The legal implications raised concern for some other Republicans because using or possessing marijuana -- including for medicinal purposes -- is illegal under federal law.

"It conflicts with my oath to protect and defend the U.S. Constitution," said Assemblyman Iran Hansen, R-Sparks. "The way we're doing it is a backhanded attack on the supremacy clause."

The supremacy clause says the U.S. Constitution is to be adhered to before state laws or constitutions.

Dispensaries would open knowing the federal government could shut down the operations and arrest everyone involved, but the precedent is that won't happen, said Sen. Mark Hutchison, R-Las Vegas.

"That's the reality of the world we live in," he said previously.


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