Nevada Criminal Defense Attorney Discusses Recent Contradictory Rulings on Medical Marijuana Dispensaries and the Proposal to Revise the Law

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After two contradictory rulings on the prosecution of medical marijuana dispensaries, Las Vegas defense attorney Joel Mann weighs in on the issue and discusses the potential for future law revisions.

The people of the great State of Nevada have spoken, they want medical marijuana available for their ailing citizens. It is up to the Nevada Supreme Court and the Nevada Legislature to respect their vote and create a law that makes sense.

As the national debate over marijuana legalization continues on, the state of Nevada is currently entrenched in its own dispute over the legality of prosecuting medical marijuana dispensaries. Following two recent conflicting verdicts by Clark County District Judges, the issue of whether it is constitutional to arrest individuals who distribute cannabis to medical patients will soon be discussed in the Nevada Supreme Court and Legislature.

Although marijuana is still considered a Schedule 1 drug on a federal level, Nevada voters approved a ballot initiative (Question 9) that legalized medical marijuana use for patients. This initiative passed in 2000 and became law. After high-profile raids on newly developed medical marijuana dispensaries were made by local and federal authorities throughout 2010 and 2011, it became clear that the legislation was divisive.

"The statute, as it currently stands, is a well-meaning piece of legislation that allows sick patients to receive great relief from their maladies, but the ambiguous wording has become problematic when putting the law into practice. It does not provide a realistic or effective way for medical marijuana patients to obtain medication," says Las Vegas marijuana defense attorney Joel Mann. "Fortunately, the State Supreme Court and Legislature will soon look closely at this issue and provide a definitive resolution."

Nevada allows medical marijuana patients to grow personal cannabis with limitations, but does not include any provisions that legalize the buying and selling of the drug to medical marijuana card carriers. Law enforcement, therefore, can arrest individuals for selling marijuana or its derivatives. This even includes registered dispensaries.

Eighth Judicial District Court Judges Doug Smith and Donald Mosley handed down the rulings that originally led to this necessity for clarification. While Judge Smith upheld the legality of prosecuting six individuals for the sale of marijuana at the Jolly Green Meds dispensary in Las Vegas (Case No. C-11-273475-2), Judge Mosley did the opposite and threw out a similar case involving the Sin City Co-Op, declaring the raid and criminal charges unconstitutional (Case No. C-11-276187-1).

"The conflicting judgments have simply made the ability to proceed in one way or the other more difficult. An overhaul of the current law is an important way to develop consensus on medical marijuana legality and access," Joel Mann observes. "We are already one of 17 states with medical marijuana laws on the books, so it would seem beneficial to produce a new law that clears the criminal liability of those who are working to provide a necessary service to people who are struggling with serious diseases."

Nevada legislators, such as Assemblyman Paul Aizely agree with this assumption. Aizely commented, "The people of Nevada have voted to legalize the use, let's see if we can set up a system to provide it similar to the way we get any other type of legal prescription drugs. The way we are doing it now just does not make sense."

The Nevada Supreme Court will hear the appealed Jolly Green Meds case and make a ruling on whether the lower-court verdict that the state law effectively banning pot dispensaries is unconstitutional (Case #60464). Although a State Supreme Court ruling will demystify the issue at a high level, the Nevada State Legislature has the opportunity to provide a definitive answer in the form of a new law, dictating how marijuana will be made available to patients. Until an agreement on the direction the law actually should take is voted upon and pursued, caregivers and medical marijuana growers will continue to be targeted for prosecution by state and federal law enforcement groups.

The heavy prosecution of medical marijuana patients and dispensaries that assist them is a troubling aspect for the Las Vegas drug defense attorney. He comments, "Individuals who are providing a valid medical service are being charged with marijuana possession, marijuana trafficking and other serious crimes. When the medical marijuana distributors are unfairly prosecuted, all parties suffer." Possession of marijuana for the purpose of sale is a felony offense in Las Vegas. According to Nevada Statutes, a first time offender may receive between one and four years in prison and / or a fine up to $2,000 for possessing more than 1 oz of marijuana.

A Nevada Supreme Court ruling can serve as a precursor to a statute revision. The lawmakers who are in favor of broadening the legality of medical marijuana will be introducing law revisions early in the 2013 legislative session, which include the ability to buy and sell at licensed dispensaries. Joel Mann concludes, "If the Nevada Supreme Court and Legislature rule in favor of expanding legal protections for medical marijuana distributors, it is likely that we will see a bill that mirrors the ratified legislation in Colorado. This can bring stability to this shaky legal issue and provide realistic access to medical cannabis for patients in need. The people of the great State of Nevada have spoken, they want medical marijuana available for their ailing citizens. It is up to the Nevada Supreme Court and the Nevada Legislature to respect their vote and create a law that makes sense.”

Joel Mann is a criminal defense attorney in Las Vegas who is dedicated to ensuring that his clients' rights are protected throughout the process of a criminal court case. Joel and his office provide residents of Las Vegas and Clark County with criminal defense representation for a wide variety of criminal charges, including marijuana and drug offenses, domestic violence, theft crimes, sex crimes and traffic violations.

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