Legalized pot has a shot in 2016, legislators remain cautious

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Legalized pot has a shot in 2016, legislators remain cautious

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Students celebrate 420 in Colorado. Earlier this week, the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana filed a petition in Nevada that could end up on the ballot in the next presidential election.

In 2016, Nevadans may choose whether or not to legalize marijuana. Earlier this week, the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana filed a petition that could end up on the ballot in the next presidential election. Advocates are optimistic, even while legislators remain cautious.

This is not the first push to legalize marijuana in Nevada. Voters rejected such efforts in 2002 and 2006. Erik Herzik, who's a political scientist at the University of Nevada, Reno, says back then Nevada was ahead of the pack on this issue. With momentum building across the country, he wouldn't rule it out this time.

"It's not slam dunk, ‘oh it will definitely pass,' but I also wouldn't say it's dead in the water, at least among the voting public. I think it's dead in the water with legislators (both democrats and republicans)."

Not even those behind the initiative expect much support from politicians. Joe Brezny is with the campaign and says they probably won't get the two thirds majority needed from the legislature in 2015. But if that's the case, it will go to the voters in 2016.

"There's a clear-cut trend and a decade-long support uptick for this issue. We need to go around the legislature and go directly to the people and give them the choice."

Brezny's counting on big turnout in that presidential election year and a recent poll showing 54 percent of Nevadans favor legalizing pot. He says pushback from elected officials, as seen even with medical marijuana, ignores Nevada's libertarian identity and the reality that gaming and prostitution are managed just fine here.

"It's a little weird we've come so far on regulating some social issues, and we turn around, see a similar social issue being regulated in other states and say, ‘wow, that's scary.' "

But State Senator Greg Brower (R-Reno) says it doesn't make sense to change state law to encourage the use of a "dangerous" and "federally banned drug." On top of that, he doesn't think Nevada will be able to regulate it well, either.

"I don't think that it's going to create the kind of revenue that would outweigh the increasing economic costs associated with widespread marijuana use."

Backers of the initiative will need to gather a little over a 100,000 signatures, before it can move forward for legislative review in 2015.