Nevada Medical Marijuana Dispensaries and Authorized Users Still Face Potential Criminal Penalties

Marijuana Plant

On November 7, 2000, 65% of voters in Nevada approved Question 9 on the ballot. Question 9 amended the state’s constitution to recognize the use of marijuana medicinally. The law, NRS 453A, took effect nearly one year later, and removed state penalties for the use of marijuana by adults who have official documentation from a physician stating that marijuana would help alleviate their patient’s medical condition. The law did set limits for how much marijuana could be possessed or cultivated by the patient.

While NRS 453A did allow for thousands of people across Nevada to use marijuana for approved medicinal purposes, it did not set a clear path for patients to actually obtain the marijuana. Growing marijuana is not a skill that many medicinal marijuana users have the time or knowledge to take advantage of. Special medical marijuana dispensaries opened throughout the state to fill this gap.

However, state and federal law enforcement officers have shut down many of these dispensaries on the grounds that the law only permits caregivers to grow for one person. This has resulted in arrests and prosecutions among marijuana growers, including many dispensaries in the Las Vegas area. The police have also been targeting individuals who have exceeded the limit of growing seven plants as specified under the law.

For individuals without official marijuana cards or even those in the dispensary industry, the consequences of a conviction can be very dire. Nevada isn’t any more lenient on those convicted of marijuana charge simply because a majority of voters favored legal medicinal marijuana use.

In Nevada, marijuana is still considered a Schedule I drug, alongside heroin, codeine, methamphetamine (meth), lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), and other drugs. Possession of marijuana for the purpose of sale is a felony offense. A first time offender may receive between one and four years in prison and / or a fine up to $5,000 as a category D felony.

There is a specific statute in Nevada for the trafficking of marijuana. Trafficking generally applies when an individual knowingly or intentionally sells, manufactures, or delivers marijuana. Trafficking of less than 100 lbs. of marijuana is a category C felony offense under NRS 453.337. This can be punished with up to $25,000 in fines and / or up to five years in prison.

A person who violates the law, even though he or she is a medical marijuana card carrier or is providing marijuana for authorized users can potentially face these serious criminal penalties. While the laws remain the way they are, individuals facing marijuana charges may not be shown leniency for helping marijuana card carriers. Working with a qualified marijuana lawyer in Las Vegas to find other possible defenses is still in their best interests.

It is currently being debated if the current medical marijuana law is what voters intended, since it can be difficult for a marijuana card carrier to obtain marijuana with the tight restrictions on growing. The Nevada Supreme Court is set to hear the issue soon and briefings will reportedly be filed by the end of the month. Additionally, several state lawmakers are still pushing for a bill that would allow licensed dispensaries to legally buy, grow, and sell marijuana to individuals with marijuana cards. The criminal courts will continue to hear related cases unless the matter is decided by the Nevada Supreme Court or state legislature.

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One Comment

  1. Posted July 17, 2012 at 4:47 pm | Permalink

    Thanks, Joel. I appreciate your work on behalf of cannabis patients and others.
    Prosecuting medical cannabis card holders for possession, production or distribution of cannabis amounts to a de facto ban on medical cannabis in defiance of the voters’ will. Police unions fight the hardest against real reform and are the biggest lobbyists for continuing the disastrous prohibition. Since they lost the vote, they attempt to squelch medical cannabis through over-regulation and hyper-vigilant enforcement. 7 plants cannot be enough to supply most patients. Factoring in the uncertainty of growing plants, the long growing season, unpredictability of weather conditions, and the large amount of flower necessary for making edibles and tinctures, it is not unusual for one patient to need 100 plants or more. There is no danger from additional plants, since none of the resulting cannabis is toxic, being safer to use than alcohol and tobacco.
    Nevadans would clearly prefer that those police resources go towards fighting violent crime than in arresting, prosecuting and incarcerating patients. I hope Nevada’s law community can bring a lawsuit against the police to stop them from acting to invalidate and ignore the voters’ decision.

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