After Legalization, Nevada Authorities Take Uneven Approach to Cannabis Enforcement

Published on November 18, 2016 · Last updated July 28, 2020
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LAS VEGAS (AP) — Law enforcement officials in Nevada are split about whether to prosecute marijuana possession cases since a newly approved Nevada initiative will make adult-use cannabis legal in less than six weeks.

The city prosecutor in Reno said he’s following the lead of counterparts in the Las Vegas area who call prosecuting misdemeanor marijuana possession cases a waste of time.

But authorities in neighboring Sparks and the top prosecutor in Washoe County said they’ll continue to enforce existing prohibitions until the voter-approved initiative legalizing marijuana possession for recreational use kicks in.

“My obligation is to follow the law that’s in place,” Washoe County District Attorney Chris Hicks said.

Police in Las Vegas, Henderson and North Las Vegas have also said they’ll enforce existing law.

In Carson City, state Attorney General Adam Laxalt said in a statement that he’s watching how the new law evolves and affects police and sheriffs, and how marijuana will be taxed.

Reno City Attorney Karl Hall told the Reno Gazette-Journal he agrees with Clark County District Attorney Steve Wolfson and the Las Vegas city attorney, Brad Jerbic, that it doesn’t make sense to file new charges against people accused of having less than an ounce of pot.

Hall said other offenses such as driving under the influence, possession by a minor, providing marijuana to a minor or consuming cannabis in public would still be prosecuted.

But, “If the citation is for (possession of) less than an ounce of marijuana, I don’t see any reason to waste resources on prosecuting a case,” Hall said.

Officer Tim Broadway, a Reno police spokesman, said the department would follow Hall’s direction.

Voters on Nov. 8 passed ballot Question 2, giving adults in Nevada the ability to possess up to an ounce of cannabis beginning Jan. 1. State lawmakers are expected next year to create a regulatory structure to impose a 15 percent tax on marijuana sales, with revenue going to regulate the substance and support education.

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Under current state law, most first-time offenders for simple marijuana possession receive a misdemeanor citation, typically processed and prosecuted by city attorneys’ offices rather than the county district attorney.

Sparks City Attorney Chet Adams told the Gazette-Journal he doesn’t intend to suspend prosecutions, and Sparks police said they planned no change in enforcement.

“My view is that until it becomes legal, it is illegal,” Adams said.

In Las Vegas, Jerbic told the Las Vegas Review-Journal that as long as defendants stay out of trouble, the city will drop possession cases in January.

A first offense under current law can draw a $600 fine or a court order to obtain substance abuse treatment. A fourth offense can draw a felony charge and the possibility of prison time.

Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol spokesman Joe Brezny said municipalities have every right to enforce existing law until Jan. 1. But he called prosecutions a waste of resources.

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