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Legal Tiff with Vegas Liquor Distributors Holds Lesson for Feds

The success of recreational cannabis regulation in Nevada relies on the often messy legal mechanisms of democracy. So far it seems to be working, and the feds should take heed.
Photo Angie Garrett

Legal

Legal Tiff with Vegas Liquor Distributors Holds Lesson for Feds

The success of recreational cannabis regulation in Nevada relies on the often messy legal mechanisms of democracy. So far it seems to be working, and the feds should take heed.

The federal right to buy and sell marijuana is a crucial political issue, but one with much larger ramifications than the immediate outcome of legalization initiatives.

Since 9/11, the U.S. Government has used the threat of terrorism to roll back Constitutional rights to privacy, free speech, religion and assembly: We’ve handed our national representatives near unlimited power to self-serve and then refuse to explain themselves based on the Patriot Act.

However, marijuana legalization is one of the few subjects left that doesn’t trigger national security concerns and has the overwhelming support of most Americans. If Congress votes to keep pot illegal, it will have to justify that decision publicly — with real facts and reliable studies. Since there is no concocted peril to hide behind, excuses based on alternate facts, propaganda, political posturing or fear-mongering won’t work.

This kind of opportunity, where Congress is forced to express its true motives behind a policy, is extremely rare. Hence, the matter’s enormous political importance.

Our esteemed compatriots on Capitol Hill (and President Trump) should pay attention: Watch Nevada’s current wrangling over marijuana distribution. It’s an indelible lesson on how government is supposed to handle the subject.

In November 2016, Nevada voters passed a referendum that legalized recreational pot — the people had spoken. This new decree gives liquor companies a monopoly over distribution for the first 18 months, unless, “the department determines that an insufficient number of marijuana distributors will result from this limitation.”

What does the “insufficient number” exception mean? Does it give the department carte blanche to bypass the liquor industry for any reason whatsoever? Only for good cause? The language is unclear.

Alcohol distributors must get licensed through the state’s tax department. Once the initiative passed, several liquor companies submitted applications. For various reasons, they were denied. So, as of now, no permits have been issued.

Recently, the department got tired of waiting on the liquor industry and opened up applications to third party, non-alcohol businesses. The liquor industry cried foul, and then filed suit to protect its purported monopoly. The department answered that it has unbridled power to issue licenses to anyone it chooses.

The voters rebelled and demanded their pot now — without court delays.

The judge, at the center of this chaos, considered all sides and issued an injunction. According to him, it will stay in effect until there’s a full hearing on what the voter’s intended. Until then, all recreational dispensaries will be prohibited from selling.

It’s unclear whether the Nevada legislature is actually allowed to modify or interpret a voter referendum. But even if it can, politicians will be risking their careers if they subvert the public will.

Sometime next week, Judge James Wilson will hold a hearing to decide what the voter referendum means. The loser will have appeal rights. Or, the citizens can demand a re-vote. Or, the judge can set aside his own ruling.

Or, the state legislators can step in and court public outrage if they ignore voter sentiment.

Take heed feds: This is how real democracy is supposed to work.

TELL US, do you think liquor companies should be involved in cannabis distribution?

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