Nevada’s passage of cannabis legalization is already having an impact on the state’s criminal justice system.
In the wake of voters last week approving a statewide adult-use law, Question 4, prosecutors in the Las Vegas area say they will stop pursuing charges against people accused of having small amounts of cannabis. Further, the county office says it won’t file any new charges for cannabis possession. While the changes almost effectively legalize cannabis in Las Vegas, police say they’ll keep enforcing current law until the law takes effect next year.
Steve Wolfson, the district attorney for Clark County, where Las Vegas is located, told the Las Vegas Review-Journal on Tuesday that his office is suspending cases in progress and won’t file new charges against people accused of having less than an ounce of marijuana. The city attorney has adopted a similar stance. Provided defendants “stay out of trouble,” City Attorney Brad Jerbic told the paper, the city will drop the cases at the beginning of 2017.
Let’s be clear: These changes don’t quite mean cannabis is legal on the Strip. Nevertheless, they should come as a huge relief to those currently facing the prospect of a criminal blemish on their records. They’ll also allow prosecutors to focus energy and resources on crimes that pose a greater threat to public safety.
Wolfson, the district attorney, will speak to police about the policy on Wednesday, he said. So far this year, Las Vegas police have arrested more than 175 people accused possessing less than an ounce of cannabis, although they say most of those came along with other charges. Current punishments for possession range from a $600 fine to prison time for repeat offenders.
At the annual Marijuana Business Conference and Expo this morning, Nevada state Sen. Tick Segerblom predicted Las Vegas “is going to be the Amsterdam of the West” once adult-use retail stores start to open. Segerblom, who co-chaired the campaign to pass Nevada’s Question 2 legalization measure, told the industry audience about the district attorney’s announcement. “Anything under one ounce is legal today,” he said. “So go out and party tonight!”
Under Question 2 as passed, legalization takes effect on Jan. 1, removing penalties for possession, private consumption, and home cultivation. But retail establishments won’t come until later; regulators at the Nevada Department of Taxation have until Jan. 1, 2018 to finalize rules and begin accepting license applications for cannabis businesses.
Beginning next year, any adult 21 or older can possess up to an ounce of cannabis flower and up to an eighth-ounce of concentrate without fear of arrest or prosecution. The environment won’t be as laissez-faire as Las Vegas’ alcohol policies, however—public consumption of cannabis could land you a $600 fine. Nevada residents can also grow up to six plants for personal use in an enclosed, secure place. Keep in mind there’s a 12-plant limit on each household.
The Associated Press contributed reporting from Las Vegas.