Face the State: Ballot Question 2 - KTVN Channel 2 - Reno Tahoe Sparks News, Weather, Video

Face the State: Ballot Question 2

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This week on Face the State, Arianna Bennett interviewed Joe Brezny, Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol in favor and Pat Hickey, Nevadans for Responsible Drug Policy in opposition of ballot Question 2.  Read the full transcript below or watch the interview in the video player.

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Arianna Bennett: Welcome to Face the State, I'm Arianna Bennett. Thank you for being with us. well this week we continue our look at the statewide ballot questions that Nevadans will be deciding on in November. This week we bring you Question 2, the question about recreational marijuana.

(Bennett) Question 2 asks shall the Nevada revised statutes be amended to allow a person 21 years old or older to purchase, cultivate, possess or consume a certain amount of marijuana or concentrated marijuana as well as manufacture, possess, use, transport, purchase, distribute or sell marijuana paraphernalia; impose a 15% excise tax on wholesale sales of marijuana; require the regulation and licensing of marijuana cultivators, testing facilities, distributor, suppliers and retailers; and provide for certain criminal penalties.

Basically what this question is asking you is given certain constructs to regulate, tax, and enforce the behavior should Nevadans be able to legally use marijuana recreationally. And there are a lot of specifics. To legally buy, grow, possess, or use it you'd have to be 21 or older and it would be in limited quantities. It allows for businesses to cultivate and sell marijuana which would be regulated by the Nevada department of taxation, however, businesses would be required to have certain licenses and certifications. Marijuana establishments would not be able to open within 1,000 feet of a school or within 300 feet of a community facility and would be limited in number by the population of the area. It would be illegal to operate a vehicle while under the influence of marijuana, illegal to distribute it to anyone under 21, to use it if you're under 21, or to use it in public. Now the state would tax the sale of marijuana at 15%. Taxes and fees would pay for regulation and enforcement. Any extra would go into the state's education budget. If this passes in this election it will become law with no further action required.

So after the break I will sit down with both sides of the argument on recreational marijuana beginning with the group in favor, stay with us.

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 Arianna Bennett: Welcome back to Face the State, we will begin our discussion of Nevada state ballot question 2 the initiative to legalize recreational marijuana with the side working to pass it. Joe Brezny with the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana like Alcohol is here with me to talk about that. Joe, thank you for coming on the show.

Joe Brezny: Thanks for having us.

Okay so to start us off why don't you tell us generally why you're in support of this.

Well marijuana prohibition has been a really expensive failure. We spend $40 billion dollars a year in America policing a substance that no one overdosed on last year. No one overdosed on it the year before that or the year before that because it's impossible to overdose on marijuana because it's impossible to overdose on marijuana and yet we spend 80% of our drug intervention budget on policing marijuana and we don't spend nearly as much on going after opiate drugs which killed 47-thousand Americans last year. We really got our priorities backward with this and since a couple of states have taken the lead and have gone ahead and moved towards regulating this we can see what that looks like in these other states. So if you take like in Denver teen use of marijuana is down in a legal market because teens are having a harder time getting it. DUI's are trending down overall for alcohol and marijuana so regulating it doesn't cause any problems there. And it's something that's starting to produce tax revenues for the schools. They produced $45 million dollars in the last year for schools. They had a surplus of marijuana tax revenue so they actually went above and beyond the normal budgeting that they had for that money and they just funded a new anti-bullying program state wide with marijuana tax money. So overall it just makes sense that since this has been such a failed policy of prohibiting this you know we've had this prohibition for 40 years and we haven't driven down a desire for the drug in America, we haven’t drive up the prices of the drug in America, and we haven't made it less available. And so if-if they were going to prohibit something I would think that they would do it because it's harmful and marijuana's less harmful than alcohol. And I would think that after 40 years of trying to prohibit this they would be successful on one of those points and they haven't been. And so it's time for a new approach. And so we've got medical marijuana here where we have a really high bar where we have  a few licenses that we vet and do background checks on our people who own these marijuana licenses very deeply. And these are our neighbors, these are people who have been in the community for 40 years and these are people that we have trusted to sell the medical marijuana to the community and those are the people that we're going to trust once this passes to sell retail marijuana to the community so -

(Bennett) But that's just initially. Right after that it would open it up to other businesses to sell, it wouldn't just be the types of dispensaries that we're seeing currently.

No but if you look at what happened in Colorado they had a similar measure where they let the medical marijuana people go first and so you have that when we're taking those first steps and moving this bar incrementally we want to do it in a way that's really socially responsible. And so having the businesses that understand the regulations that are in place, understand the security measures that are required for this, that's a great first step and that's what worked well in Colorado. And then if you look at what they did in Oregon even with their release of adult retail marijuana, recreational marijuana they did it incrementally where they let the medical marijuana shop sell a limited amount of just the flower first and then they let them sell one gram of extract and then they waited and then they're finally letting them sell what the law allows with extracts. And so doing it a little at a time and letting the folks who have done this first have the first crack at it seems like the safest way to move forward.

Now I think one of the main concerns being voiced by the opposition to this isn't really about the traditional picture of marijuana which we see is someone smoking a joint maybe but it's the edibles which are easily masked, hard to detect and can get in the wrong hands easily. So what's your response to the concern that we're not really dealing with the same marijuana that you know we had in the sixties?

Well the-the other side the only way that their point makes any sense is if they can scare people, is if they can make it so that either the marijuana is bad or that the people in the business are bad. And so they have to have that as a central argument or-or prohibiting this just doesn't make any sense.

(Bennett interrupting) But I think you know to a parent the prospect of a kid getting their hands on a really potent edibles is scary, that's it's not a scare tactic that is scary.

Well if we talk about the specifics of what's going on in Colorado - so for edibles we've had ed-edibles for 40 years. There have been pot brownies around for 40 years. But the pot brownies in the sixties and seventies you didn't know if all the THC was in one brownie or if it was evenly spread throughout. There wasn't any child proof packaging. And so we've had people making these edible products for decades in an unregulated market, in the black market. But now that we have a regulated market they saw that in Colorado when they didn't have any limits on potency that's when they had the issues with kids going to the emergency room. But the other side will say that there's been this massive spike but they don't tell you the real numbers. 47 kids went to the emergency room last year in Colorado for medical marijuana edibles, accidental ingestion of them. None of them died. It's not fatal, you can't overdose on it. But if you compare that with the 1,400 kids that went to emergency rooms in Colorado for chewing on tide laundry pods or drinking Drain-O or cleaning products which can kill them it puts it in perspective that this is a problem that we want to make sure that we address but it's a very small problem and it's something where regulation is a better way because we can educate parents. In Nevada you need to be responsible around your kids. You need to lock up your guns, you need to lock up your alcohol, you need to lock up your marijuana and you should lock up your opiate drugs as well. We've got to take that responsibility as parents and police that within our own homes. Under the system that we have now that rewards the cartels and the drug dealers without having any dispensary system, they don't check ID. That's what's going to push edibles to our kids instead of having a system where we can check ID at the door, make sure kids have a harder time getting it, and we can educate the parents on how to keep this away from their kids.

What about the argument that this actually isn't going to eliminate the black market because when it goes through the whole rigmarole of being taxed and regulated it'll be expensive? So people are just going to go for the cheaper product which they can get illegally?

Yeah the-the numbers don't support that. If you look at - and I think it's because we're we're being smart about this in Nevada. If you look at what they did in Washington they originally had a 25% tax from the whole sale grower to the extractor, then another 25% tax from the extractor to the retail establishment, then another 25% tax from the retail establishment to the end consumer. With that high of a tax, that made it so expensive that the black market did have an incentive to stay around. But the taxes that we're talking about passing here, we have a 15% excise tax on wholesale marijuana. We're trying to strike a balance between producing reasonable revenue so that we can- can provide enough money to regulate this and cover the costs of regulation and also provide a little bit of money for education once we cover the regulatory costs. We want there to be a surplus. $45 million dollars was the surplus that went to education in Colorado last year. So we need to produce income so that this is worth it for the state but we don't want to tax so heavily that we incentivize a black market. The Colorado taxation rate is higher than ours, it's higher than ours would be here if Question 2 were to pass. 70% of the black market has been eliminated from Denver and from-from Colorado with regulation and the black market that remains is changing. The cartels are pulling out of Colorado because they can't make money anymore and the black market marijuana was $250-$350 dollars an ounce. Now it's about $99 dollars. So the cartels can't make money anymore at it anymore because when we're not putting in all of those security costs that the cartels have to go through and we're just growing it locally in a secure place here and selling it in a secure place here we can dial those costs down and sell marijuana at a lower cost.

Okay we just have a few minutes left but I do want to touch on this other safety concern which is road safety. Right now there is no way, there is no marijuana breathalyzer, no way for police to detect how much marijuana is in a person's system in the field without a blood test which you can't do in the field. So how do we make sure that this doesn't make Nevada's roads more dangerous?

Well if you look at the numbers again as to what's happened in Colorado, DUI's are dropping. DUI's for alcohol are dropping. DUI's for marijuana are dropping. So any suggestion that regulating marijuana will cause a spike in DUI's it the numbers don't back that up. And it kind of makes sense if you think about it because if you're going to drive under the influence of marijuana you have to make a really irresponsible choice to consume marijuana and then get behind the wheel of a car. If you're that irresponsible that you're going to do that, marijuana's not that hard to get that now even though it's illegal it's reasonably easy to obtain. And so if someone is irresponsible enough that they're going to smoke a joint and then drive they're doing it now which is why we have the toughest DUI law for marijuana in the country right now. So that's an issue that's there now and-and regulating marijuana won't cause a spike in that.

Okay we've got a few minutes left so what's your closing message to voters, what would you most like them to take away from this?

Well the-the comparison between marijuana and alcohol is one that really makes sense because it's something that we regulate well here. We regulate alcohol well here, we regulate gaming to the gold standard here. Nevada is a state where we believe in our personal freedoms and we believe that we can as a society here regulate things that other states may not think are possible. People didn't think that gaming could be regulated in 41 states but we set the gold standard for that. When I think about the disservice that we're doing to our citizens right now under the black market system where someone like me who just chooses to consume marijuana rather than alcohol and is making a healthier choice, I'm treated like a criminal and I'm penalized. And that's not fair to our-our citizens. It's a waste of our law enforcement resources and we're really putting our kids at risk under this system, under the black market system, because drug dealers don't check ID and-and business people will. A responsible business person is not going to risk their license by allowing this to get in the hands of a kid. And so the industry can come to the table, work with police, work with the schools, work with the education system and find ways to help drive down youth usage rates and keep this away from kids. So it can be a social benefit in many ways and we can provide tax revenue for education.

Okay Joe thanks so much -

(Overlapping) Thanks.

I sure appreciate it. Well coming up on Face the State we will be back with the other side of the issue. Stay with us.

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Arianna Bennett: Welcome back to Face the State, well we've heard from those in favor of passing Question 2 for legalizing recreational marijuana now we'll switch it over to the other side to hear the arguments against. Pat Hickey from Nevadans for Responsible Drug Policy is here now to discuss that. Pat thank you so much for being on the show.

Pat Hickey: Nice to be with you.

Yeah I appreciate it. So start us off generally, why are you opposed to this measure?

Well we've just heard a very slick presentation asking Nevadans to believe that if-if we legalize, commercialize, and popularize a drug we're going to see less use both in the overall society and among young people. And in light of the fact that many of the products that are being marketed, the edibles as you've brought up in the form of gummy bears and kit kat like bars and pop tarts and things the idea that you know young people are going to be less attracted to this because we've legalized it and-and you know commercialized it. One of the arguments of this side of the proponents is that this is going to provide money for education. That really hasn't happened in Colorado. I serve on the State Board of Education, was in the legislature. The $20 million dollars a year that is promised or projected after millions and millions grow the size of government will represent less than one third of one percent of Nevada's overall budget for education. So it's a drop in the bucket and the result is monies and the proponents have admitted are going to have to be spent on educating Nevada youth about the new potencies, the challenges, as you said the marijuana today is not the same as that in the sixties and I think it will present real challenges, safety and public health wise. That's why the Nevada medical association has opposed and a number of business organizations think it will actually be bad for the economy because all the resulting problems. I'd like to see a Nevada that promotes education, finds workers that are going to populate Switch and Tesla and not necessarily be pot shop cashiers.

Okay what about the argument that people are already using this, they've been using it for years. This is an opportunity to bring it out in the open, eliminate the black market and potentially make some additional state revenue on something people are already doing?

Well it-it doesn't eliminate the black market. You know the Colorado Attorney General has been very clear about that. It's given new opportunities. You alluded to it earlier, once it's totally legal and we price it and tax it to a level you make it you know frankly an option for people to continue to buy it as they have before. they're after all not going to be arrested for possession so it does not get rid of the black market as evidence by what just happened in our area up at the Hard Rock Hotel in Stateline where 10 young women went to a bachelorette party, got some tainted marijuana from a supposed marijuana medical marijuana distributor and all went to the emergency room as a result of it -

(Bennett Overlapping) But -

- so courts don't get out of the business.

(Bennett) But I think that's the idea behind legalizing it right is so that if people are getting the product anyway they'll get some that's regulated, it's tested, they know the dosage they're getting. I mean wouldn't that prevent that kind of an issue if they're buying it anyway?

(overlapping) Well for a responsible persons that's-that's fine but when you popularize something and you mass market it in the from of edibles, you know there's nothing in this initiative that regulates at all the potencies or child proof edibles. There's also nothing that prevents advertising of their products. So just like with tobacco you're going to see it marketed as was the case with Joe Camel to a young audience hoping or a clientele that they'll be customers for life.

Now in Colorado they have seen that happen and so they've passed rules about packaging it so it's less appealing to kids. The Nevada legislature would have the ability to do that if they so chose should this pass. Do you think that would cut down on some of the concerns for this?

Well the Nevada legislature should be the body in the state that debates this. This was put on the ballot by out of state interests, the marijuana policy project that paid for signature gathers are supportive of big marijuana which stands to gain as the Reno Gazette Journal recently reported on. It's 'Marijuana Incorporated' it's 'Big Marijuana' like 'Big Tobacco' hoping to make a buck with no real benefits. I mean look at this country right now. Look at Nevada. We have a serious epidemic with prescription drugs which by the way are legal and are regulated. Joe can say well let's lock all of our things but kids are getting those prescription drugs. What's to make us think they're not going to get the marijuana that their grandparents and parents are purchasing and you know are enjoying as well? So we have problems with drugs in our society. Legalizing and commercializing another one is not going to help our education system, it's not going to help our work force.

Well to be fair, marijuana isn't chemically addictive correct? So it's not necessarily on par with -

(overlapping) No the experts don't agree with that. One out of six young people science will tell us who smoke habitually  will become dependent or addictive. Yes it doesn't kill you like heroin. You can overdose on alcohol, it's true. Smoking for example tobacco does not you don't overdose on smoking, it's cumulative. It's over a lifetime that it has it's impact and studies show that people that smoke regularly and after all this is a business that wants customers in order that it prospers. People who smoke regularly studies show, not just young people, they perform less well on the work site, they perform less well in educational venues. Kids for example score less on their high school or college entrance exams, are more inclined to drop out, this has been a problem. We're talking about here, expanding. We want to you know make it more prevalent and more popular and I asked the question, how does that help the new Nevada many of us want to see.

What about the argument that prohibition, you know every time we've tried it for example alcohol was a monumental failure in the United States? People don't generally like being told that they can't do something so this is going to happen eventually, this is the argument, we might as well get out ahead of it and make some money on it?

Well I mean alcohol prohibition you know happened at a time that there were certain reasons for it. 70% of American adults consume alcohol. About 8% that consume marijuana. So you can't compare apples and oranges. It's not like the entire American public is clamoring to see another substance legalized.

Now as we've seen in Colorado there is you know some tax windfall that comes along with legalizing this. In a state that has kind of traditionally been cash strapped, how do you justify turning down you know potentially millions of dollars in extra tax revenue?

Like I said Colorado and the-the proponents said got $40 million a year for education. Their bill is written very differently than ours. Nevada is third in line to get money for our schools. They project $20 million dollars a year. That is again a drop in the bucket. And when you talk about all of the expenses of having to develop new rehab programs and education programs to deter young people from smoking marijuana it will all be consumed and eaten up in that. There's not going to be any boon for Nevada education or monies from this.

What about the economic ripple effect? When these businesses open they're going to hire people, more people move here, population grows, could it help our economy overall?

Well the Nevada Resorts Association which is still our largest industry in this state unanimously opposed this in both northern and southern Nevada because they see the potential of it actually hurting business. People that spend $350 dollars a night for a property at the Wynn do not want to walk down a hallway and smell marijuana oozing out of the rooms. So they adamantly opposed it as have contractors, as have chambers of commerce. In Denver for example a study just came out from their visitor's bureau citing that 50% of conference and convention goers would not return to Denver and they cited one of the reasons being the proliferation of public marijuana smoking. And our state senator who's behind this, Tick Segerblom who said he wants to make Nevada the Amsterdam of the West has a bill in for the next legislature to make smoking of marijuana in public legal. I'm not sure we want that in downtown Reno, certainly the strip doesn't want it there.

So quickly we've got about a minute and a half left. What about the argument that police resources right now are being misappropriated to fighting marijuana when they could be better used for more serious crimes?

Well our my opponent said that 80% of the money goes to fighting marijuana, it's to the drug problem in the country it's not just to marijuana. Our biggest problems are were with prescription drugs and heroin and other things. So that is a misnomer. Look the police are not arresting persons for mere possession right now. They won't be arresting probably anyone afterwards when it's totally legal. They're not going to know and not be able to discern where people got their drugs and public intoxication will be a nuisance, will be a problem, it will be a problem in schools with the edibles because principals and teachers are not going to be able to detect the smell and their use on campus.

Okay just a few seconds left, any closing thoughts?

Well I just would say you know this is not good for Nevada's children, it's not good for Nevada families and it's not good for Nevada's tax payers and so it's been bad for Colorado. I'd argue it'll even be worse for Nevada

All right Pat we're out of time but thank you so much, I do appreciate it.

Thank you.

All right that is it for this episode of Face the State but for more information on all of this just can head to our website that's KTVN.com. Thank you for being with us. We'll see you next week.

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