Penalties for marijuana remain harsh despite decriminalization

Although Nevada has decriminalized minor marijuana possession, penalties remain harsh even for first offenders.

Nevada is one of a number of states that has decriminalized possession of small amounts of marijuana. The fact that minor marijuana possession is no longer considered a felony in the state may lead some Nevadans to assume that the sale and possession of marijuana is now treated lightly by law enforcement and courts. However, as USA Today points out, despite being a “decriminalization” state, Nevada still has some of the harshest misdemeanor penalties and one of the highest arrest rates linked to marijuana offenses in the country.

Marijuana decriminalization

Nevada is among the 20 states that have decriminalized possession of small amounts of marijuana. Decriminalization, however, can be a misleading term as minor marijuana possession, while no longer a felony offense, is still considered a misdemeanor. Furthermore, among states that have decriminalized minor marijuana possession, Nevada’s misdemeanor penalties are some of the harshest.

For a first offense of possessing up to one ounce of marijuana, for example, the penalty is typically a fine of up to $600. Furthermore, first time offenders can be ordered to attend mandatory drug treatment. Repeat offenses lead to even stricter penalties, including maximum fines of $5,000 as well as lengthy jail terms. Also, the sale and distribution of marijuana possession of amounts larger than one ounce remain felony offenses. Nevada also has the 14th-highest rate of arrest for marijuana offenses, with 8,500 such arrests in 2012.

Legalization on the way?

Relief, however, may be on the horizon. As the International Business Times reports, in November of 2016 Nevadans will have the chance to vote on a ballot initiative that will legalize and regulate the sale, possession and use of marijuana in the state.

If passed, the initiative would make private possession of up to an ounce of marijuana legal for people who are 21 years or older. Public use of marijuana and driving under the influence of the drug would still be illegal. Similarly to alcohol sales, marijuana would be highly regulated by the state and its sale would be taxed, with proceeds from those taxes going to fund public schools. Assuming that no other states legalize marijuana before next November, the initiative could lead to Nevada joining Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, and Washington as the only states to legalize private recreational use of the drug. Minor marijuana possession has also been legalized in the District of Columbia.

Criminal defense

Nevada’s marijuana laws can be confusing for many people. With such a high arrest rate and harsh punishments, anybody charged with a marijuana-related offense in Nevada should reach out to a criminal defense attorney immediately. An experienced attorney will be in the best position to fight for his client’s rights and mitigate whatever damage a drug charge may otherwise cause.