Nevada has awarded 55 provisional marijuana dispensary licenses.
Ken Ritter, Associated Press
The head of a civil rights group in northern Nevada said Friday the incoming state Legislature should legalize marijuana for recreational use instead of leaving the question to voters.
Jeffrey Blanck, president of the Reno and Sparks chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, cast legalization as a race issue.
He pointed to studies, including a June 2013 report by the American Civil Liberties Union, that say blacks are far more likely than whites to face arrest and prosecution for marijuana possession.
“I want the Legislature to do it because we elected them to be leaders,” Blanck said.
Blanck wants lawmakers to support a petition submitted by a group called the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, which said it submitted nearly 200,000 signatures — almost twice as many as needed to qualify for the ballot. Nevada Secretary of State Ross Miller has verified the signatures and approved the measure for the 2016 ballot.
If approved by voters, the proposed law would allow Nevada to join Colorado, Washington state, Oregon, Alaska and the District of Columbia in allowing recreational pot use.
It would make private possession of up to an ounce of marijuana legal for people over age 21. Sellers, growers and distributors would be licensed and regulated, and would pay a 15 percent wholesale tax on sales with the revenue dedicated to schools.
420 Friendly: Northern Nevada NAACP chief Jeffrey Blanck supports legalized pot
The Nevada Legislature meets every two years for four months. It opens Feb. 2. If it refuses to consider the marijuana question, it will automatically appear on the November 2016 ballot.
“What harm is there to our society if a person is smoking marijuana in their home?” Blanck asked in a Sept. 4 letter he said was sent on NAACP letterhead to every state lawmaker. It pointed to the ACLU report, titled “The War on Marijuana in Black and White,” which studied 2001 to 2010 data from all 50 states and the District of Columbia.
Nevada ranked sixth-highest in the number of black people arrested for marijuana possession, with the 11th largest racial disparity in marijuana possession rates by race.
“The bottom line from the NAACP perspective is that black people are 4 1/2 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than if you are white,” Blanck said Friday.
Jeffrey Blanck, Nevada Lawyer and pot smoker
He told the lawmakers in his letter that Nevada spent $41.6 million in 2010 enforcing marijuana possession laws that could have been better used for education or health services.
Joe Brezny, a former Nevada Republican party official who now heads the Nevada Cannabis Industry Association and speaks for the initiative, has emphasized the economic benefit of taxing and regulating marijuana while reducing police costs.
He has teamed in the campaign with Democratic state Sen. Tick Segerblom of Las Vegas, who is also telling Republican colleagues that legalizing pot would avoid having an initiative on the November 2016 ballot that could attract Democrats to the polls.
Segerblom says the fact the GOP has control of both legislative houses for the first time since 1985 makes it less likely state lawmakers will legalize recreational pot use.
A local branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) is getting involved in the push to make Nevada the next state to legalize marijuana.
Jeffery Blanck, president of the Reno-Sparks NAACP, sent a letter to all state lawmakers declaring, “It is time to end the failed war on marijuana.”
In an email to Marijuana.com, Blanck explained that the organization felt “that the best way to end the disparate treatment of people of color for marijuana arrests in Nevada was to legalize it.”
“Prohibition didn’t work and neither is criminalizing marijuana use and possession,” he said. “The enforcement money could be much better spent on education.”
The letter, first reported by the Reno Gazette-Journal, references a 2013 ACLU report which found that Nevada has the 11th most racially disparate marijuana arrest rate in the U.S. Blacks in the Silver State are 4.47 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana than whites are, even though usage rates are virtually the same.
“This is not a war on drugs, but a war on our local population,” the letter reads. “What harm is there to our society if a person is smoking marijuana in their home?”
Advocates recently turned in more than enough signatures to qualify a legalization measure for Nevada’s November 2016 ballot, but the NAACP’s Blanck doesn’t want the state to have to wait that long. He said legislators should enact the measure sooner, writing that the state’s arrest rates are “nothing to be proud of, seeing how we have historically been referred to as the ‘Mississippi of the West.’”
In recent years local NAACP groups have been active in efforts to legalize marijuana, starting with the California branch, which endorsed a 2010 initiative that ended up falling short on election day, but which made major national headlines and helped put ending prohibition on the map as a civil rights and racial justice issue.
“We have empirical proof that the application of the marijuana laws has been unfairly applied to our young people of color,” California NAACP branch head Alice Huffman said at the time.
Since then, NAACP branches have been involved in successful efforts to legalize marijuana in four states and the District of Columbia.
The D.C. effort in particular was framed as a racial justice campaign, with emphasis placed on using tax revenues from legal marijuana to help communities hit the hardest by prohibition.
“Given the damage that has been done to our communities from the war on drugs, it only makes sense that the revenues generated from the taxation of marijuana be reinvested into the communities harmed the most,” said Akosua Ali, president of NAACP’s D.C. branch. “This is the definition of socioeconomic justice.”
The national NAACP hasn’t backed legalization outright, but has endorsed a congressional bill to let states set their own marijuana laws without federal interference.
A 2013 poll found that 54 percent of Nevada voters support legalizing marijuana.
In Blanck’s letter to lawmakers, he says, “The trend of legalizing recreational use of marijuana is starting to sweep the country and Nevada needs to do the same.”