You authored the 2013 law allowing the establishment of medical marijuana dispensaries, and have been a proponent of the issue for more than a decade. Why?
I’m a child of the ’60s, so I know firsthand that it’s not the devil’s weed. I wouldn’t encourage people to use it if they don’t need to use drugs, but if you’re going to use a drug, it’s the one that is probably the least harmful to you. Medical marijuana, it was passed by the voters in 2000 with 65 percent approval, and yet for 12 years we hadn’t been able to get it processed where people could purchase it after the doctor says they’re entitled to it. It just seemed crazy. Everyone said, “Oh, you’ll never get [the law passed], and I said, “Well, I’m going to put my weight behind it.” And it turned out that there was no opposition. It was like the emperor had no clothes.
Which state is doing the best job in handling medicinal marijuana dispensaries?
Colorado is clearly the gold standard. They’ve gone beyond that to recreational [use] now, but when they did the medical, they did it perfectly. Their law was actually copied in Arizona, and we copied Arizona when we drafted our law. They have the best law, because they designed a system where they could control it. The plants are tagged, they’re traced, so there wasn’t anything going out the backdoor. Once you show that you can control it, then you can treat it like alcohol or tobacco, where you can regulate it, tax it, monitor it and make sure that it doesn’t go to people who shouldn’t have it.
A petition, which you have signed, has been filed to make marijuana legal for recreational use in Nevada. Is medical marijuana just the next step toward full legalization?
It is. It was not our intent that we would use that to get our nose under the tent, but given what’s happened in [other states], I think that recreational marijuana is inevitable. And Nevada is the perfect place for it. We have to get [just over 101,000] signatures by November. I’m confident we’re going to get that; that means the Legislature has to take it up [in 2015]. I think there’s actually a 10, 15 percent chance that the Legislature will pass it with a two-thirds vote, but the public opinion, I haven’t talked to anybody who doesn’t support it.
Why put people in jail? Why give money to the [drug cartels]? Why miss the tax revenues? Our schools are dying. So I think there’s an outside chance we’ll actually pass it, but if we don’t, it’ll be on the ballot in 2016, and I would bet my life that it will pass then. Nevada has a golden opportunity to jump out there and get recreational [marijuana] and use that as a drawing card around the world. People come here anyway to commit vices, so what better place?
How do you strike a balance between local, county and state interests?
To get the law through the Legislature, we want to say, look, if Boulder City doesn’t want it, we’re going to give them that right to say they don’t want it. But maybe in a few years we say, look, you cannot deny the people in Boulder City—the patients—the right to be able to get it without driving 10 or 20 miles to get it, and force them to at least have one [dispensary]. But for now, it’s fine. We’re not trying to force this down anybody’s throat. Let’s just get it up and running for the places that want it.
What do you think about the Nevada Gaming Control Board’s mandate that no person with a gaming license is to be involved in the marijuana business in any way?
I understand their concern, because you don’t want to invite the feds in. That’s always been our stance, that we’ll have a tightly controlled regulatory policy so the feds don’t come in and cause trouble. But the reality is that the most qualified people to [get a medical marijuana license] would be people who have a gaming license, because they’ve already been screened, they’re vetted, we know who they are. So I disagree, and we’re going to look at that issue next [legislative] session.
You considered running against Governor Brian Sandoval this year before deciding against it. What made you first consider it, and why did you ultimately not run?
I didn’t feel like I could win, but I thought we needed to have somebody running to carry the torch and to raise the issues that need to be raised. Looking at it real closely, the question is: Do we need to have somebody there raising the issues and carrying the torch, only to get squished? Maybe that sends the wrong message, because once that person gets squished, then it’s like that message isn’t viable. And the reality is that a good message is important, but you also have to have enough resources to get the message out, and it was clear that there wouldn’t be enough resources to do that.
What is the biggest public misconception about Nevada’s marijuana laws?
It’s not so much Nevadans, because we’re pretty familiar with what our laws are, but a lot of out-of-state people assume that because [most] everything else is legal in Nevada, that marijuana is legal. It’s hard to believe that if prostitution is legal, then marijuana wouldn’t be. Many [tourists] would be shocked to realize the serious trouble they can get into by just having a joint.
What aspects of the medical marijuana issue give you the most pause?
We designed the law after Arizona, thinking if Arizona can do it, Nevada can do it. And they have a pretty limited number of dispensaries, one for every 10 pharmacies, so we thought that seemed like a good formula. That would be 40 for Clark County; that sounds like a good place to start. In retrospect, that was way, way below what we should have done. We should have just had a state process that said the state will pick people and do the background check, and then local governments can decide if they want one or 50 [dispensaries]. Hopefully we can go back next [legislative] session and modify that because the fighting over this handful of dispensaries is just crazy.
Are you OK with how the application system has played out to this point?
It’s not how I envisioned it, because we thought the state was going to be making all the decisions and the local government would just say, “Yes, that’s a good site.” And at least the county has gone farther than that and said we’re going to pick them. The law was ambiguous, but as long as we’re moving forward … A year ago, I was shocked to see the local governments start jumping on board this thing. And now it looks like virtually every local government has, so that’s a major turnaround, and I’m real proud of that.
Did your mother, the late four-term Assemblywoman Gene Segerblom, have an opinion on the issue of legalized or medical marijuana?
I don’t really recall discussing it with her. By the time the bill actually came up, she had just died [in January 2013] before the session. But she was a flaming liberal, and I think she would have been there 100 percent. She supported the Death With Dignity Act, so you could say, “Don’t resuscitate me.” She always believed, as long as you do it to yourself, no harm, no foul.
Since you’ve so heavily championed the medical marijuana movement in Nevada, I have to ask: When was the last time you inhaled?
Let’s just say that within the last year, people have come to me with innovative products, and in an effort to better understand the industry, I have tried some new methods of distribution. Not that I have done it regularly, but I will say that there are things out there that back in the ’60s you would have never believed possible.
What issue in Nevada concerns you the most?
It’s clearly our tax structure and the lack of revenue, particularly for schools. There’s no reason why with all the wealth we have here, we can’t have more money raised in taxes that we can use for our school system, which in turn, to me, will bring in more wealth. It’s crazy that we can be this close to California, the heaviest-taxed state, and think that low taxes are going to somehow help us out. It’s been a disaster.
Why do you support annual legislative sessions, rather than the current biennial format?
First, you can’t possibly do something meeting every two years. If you want to stay on top of things, you have to meet at least once a year. Secondly, it hurts Southern Nevada. We have 75 percent of the state’s population, so 75 percent of the legislators are here, and we don’t have that impact unless the Legislature has a high profile and is active. Right now, we go to Carson City for four months every other year, everyone holds their nose, and as soon as we leave town they go on about their business. There is no follow-up, no oversight, and we need to have oversight to monitor our schools, to monitor our mental health system, to make sure Southern Nevada gets the resources for our roads, you name it. Legislators are very valuable, and not having the time and the resources to meet hinders our ability to do that.
You have requested two resolutions to be drafted for the 2015 legislative session that would ask voters in 2018 to abolish term limits for state and local elected officials, and repeal a two-thirds requirement in the Legislature to raise taxes. Why should Nevada support both of these measures?
Again, the Legislature is Southern Nevada’s strongest arm, because we have so much of the population, and so we have many legislators. By having the term limits, first, you limit the ability for people to learn what’s going on and to really become effective, so that hurts Southern Nevada. As far as the two-thirds [requirement], the majority of people can elect the governor or a senator, the majority of people ought to be able to vote for taxes. If you don’t like what they did, then throw them out and bring a new group in and overturn the taxes. It’s crazy to have this supermajority [required] to raise taxes, and it’s only something that’s happened in the last 20 years. Throughout the rest of [Nevada’s statehood], we always had legislators stay as long as their constituents liked them, and they could approve a tax.