A vote 14 years ago to allow Nevadans to use marijuana for medical purposes has the state tied up in knots. Imagine what it would be like if Nevada follows the lead of Colorado and Washington by legalizing possession of small amounts of the drug for recreational purposes.
The reason for all of the angst is the federal government, of course, which still considers marijuana a dangerous drug and bans its use, whether to help with serious medical conditions or purely for a good time.
The Justice Department under President Barack Obama has chosen to look the other way as the legalization movement gained a foothold in the West, but that could change tomorrow.
A decision to start enforcing the anti-marijuana laws — because of a change of administrations, say — could cause chaos in the states that have legalized medicinal marijuana, including Nevada.
Unless and until Congress decides to take action to bring some sense and predictability to the law, it will continue to be a mess.
How messy is it? Tuesday offered up plenty of evidence.
At the Nevada Supreme Court, the justices were considering a Nevada State Bar Association rule that would allow lawyers to give advice to those in the medical marijuana business.
The current rule bans lawyers from advising a client to break the law; a proposed change would free them to give advice to clients on activities permitted under state law, even if “that same conduct, standing alone, may violate federal law.”
Meanwhile, over at the Gaming Control Board, regulators warned casino owners not to get involved in the marijuana industry.
“Unless federal law is changed, the board does not believe investment or any other involvement in a medical marijuana facility or establishment by a person who has received a gaming approval or has applied for a gaming approval is consistent with the effective regulation of gaming,” the industry was told in a memo from GCB member Terry Johnson.
The Gaming Control Board’s advice to licensed holders came just days after Clark County received more than 200 application for marijuana dispensary permits, including at least one involving a company whose top investor also is an owner of a gaming company. (That’s how complicated things are in a state that once limited casino ownership to individuals.)
At the same time, Reno, Sparks, Washoe County and some other communities are working on the final rules for setting up medical marijuana facilities (except in Boulder City, which has banned marijuana dispensaries and related facilities).
From all appearances, the marijuana business is going to be popular in Nevada regardless of federal law.
The legalization of recreational marijuana in Colorado as of Jan. 1 has raised new problems, however. Like lawyers, bankers are concerned about running afoul of federal law if they deal with marijuana growers and sellers. That means operating capital can be hard to come by, and there’s talk there of setting up a bank just to deal with the issue.
Like online gambling, this is a mess largely of Congress’ doing. The states are getting out in front of the issue quickly, and attitudes are changing quickly. Congress’ inaction is allowing the states to write their own rules, and those rules inevitably are going to clash. Soon, Congress will have no choice but to clean up the mess it’s left behind.