More MS news articles for May 2001

Assembly defies U.S. Supreme Court

Medical marijuana bill receives approval

Thursday, May 24, 2001
Copyright © Las Vegas Review-Journal

CARSON CITY -- Defying the U.S. Supreme Court and asserting its rights as a state, the Assembly voted 30 to 12 to pass a bill that would allow patients with doctors' permission to use marijuana for medical purposes.

Members approved Assembly Bill 453 that would set up a system under which registered patients suffering from AIDS, cancer and other illnesses could grow as many as seven marijuana plants in their homes.

The bill also changes a state law under which it is a felony to possess any amount of marijuana. Under the bill, those caught with an ounce or less of marijuana could be charged with a misdemeanor punishable by a $600 fine. They would be ordered into a drug treatment program if convicted a second time for marijuana possession.

The bill now moves to the Senate for further hearings and possible action before the Legislature adjourns June 4. If approved in the upper house, the plan would go to Gov. Kenny Guinn for his consent or veto.

Guinn has expressed reservations about signing a bill that would violate federal laws prohibiting the use of marijuana for any purpose. He has advocated seeking federal approval of a research project under which a limited number of people would use marijuana.

In speaking out for her bill, Assemblywoman Chris Giunchigliani, D-Las Vegas, reminded lawmakers that they were only putting into effect the medical marijuana constitutional amendment approved by voters in two consecutive elections. Sixty-five percent of the voters last November backed the marijuana plan.

"This is a states' right issue," added Giunchigliani, alluding to the recent Supreme Court decision that struck down a marijuana distribution program in Oakland, Calif., and that some thought outlawed medical marijuana programs in all states. "You are just following the will of the people and not condoning drug use."

Legislative lawyers reviewed the Supreme Court decision and determined the state Legislature still could approve the medical marijuana bill, though users might be subject to federal prosecution. Giunchigliani said last week that she doubts federal agents would be sent to Nevada to uproot the marijuana plants of sick people. She added after the vote Wednesday that she is confident Guinn will sign the bill.

But Assemblyman Greg Brower, R-Reno, said the bill would place medical marijuana users into a Catch-22 situation.

"We are saying we aren't going to prosecute you, but it's a federal crime, but don't worry about it," he said.

He said states cannot pass medical marijuana laws until Congress changes the federal law under which marijuana is a controlled substance.

But Assemblyman John Carpenter, R-Elko, said defying federal law "is right down my alley" and he would back the bill. Carpenter led moves in Elko County to defy the U.S. Forest Service and reopen a U.S. Forest Service road in Jarbidge.

Assemblyman Bob Beers, R-Las Vegas, added that it makes no sense to have a felony marijuana possession law "when it is OK to drink beer until you cannot move."

In an interview after the vote, Assembly Speaker Richard Perkins, D-Henderson, said the misdemeanor possession change only will put into law what is the practice among police and prosecutors.

"Very rarely will you find anybody charged with a felony for a small amount of marijuana," said Perkins, the deputy chief of the Henderson Police Department. "I am of a mind this is a states' rights issue, and we can do whatever we want in our state to govern our state."

Voting against the bill were Republicans Sharron Angle, Don Gustavson, David Humke, Dawn Gibbons and Brower, all of Reno, David Brown and Sandra Tiffany, both of Henderson, Barbara Cegavske and Kathy Von Tobel, both of Las Vegas, along with Democrats John Lee and John Oceguera, both of Las Vegas, and Debbie Smith of Sparks.