by Cristina Silva, Associated Press, (Source:San Francisco Chronicle)
30 Dec 2010
Nevada is known for letting just about anything slide, whether it's booze, bets or brothels. But even here there are limits.
It has been OK to smoke marijuana to treat illness for 10 years. But don't think about selling it. Lately, federal agents and local police have taken notice, raiding several pot shops in and around Sin City.
All of it has pot advocates scratching their heads: How is a state that has long lured visitors with promises of unconstrained debauchery stricter with pot than its more wholesome neighbors of Colorado, Arizona and California?
"I really thought they would leave us alone," said Pierre Werner, whose family's pot shop was raided and who now faces federal charges. "No one should go to prison for a plant."
Political leaders and historians say these advocates don't know Nevada. The state has libertarian leanings and is generally willing to prosper from activities that most states have declared repugnant, but for many people there, pot is for hippies.
Nevada passed its medical marijuana law in 2000, four years after California passed its first-in-the-nation program. In all, 15 states and the District of Columbia allow it.
Advocates say the strict Nevada law makes it nearly impossible to legally smoke pot. Patients cannot buy or sell marijuana and can only grow seven plants for personal use.
Transactions are called donations, not purchases. Customers are patients. Marijuana is medicine. To police, however, it still means trouble.
In September, local and federal investigators served search warrants at several marijuana shops in and around Las Vegas.
Until 2000, Nevada had one of the nation's strictest marijuana laws, when possession of a single joint was a felony punishable by a year or more in prison.
The earliest campaigns to loosen such punishments were easy sells. The medical marijuana law then removed criminal penalties on the use, possession and cultivation of marijuana by patients with written documentation from their physicians.
Since 2000, advocates have spent $12 million trying to make Nevada the first state to legalize pot and bring Amsterdam-style pot-smoking bars into casinos on the Las Vegas Strip.
The Marijuana Policy Project, based in Washington, D.C., led five failed efforts to pass pro-marijuana laws in Nevada.
This article appeared on of the San Francisco Chronicle