By Selwyn Harris
Call it a pipe dream, but it could also be a gigantic windfall for Nevada public education.
Assemblyman Joe Hogan, D-Las Vegas, wants to make Nevada the sixth state to legalize and tax recreational marijuana with all proceeds going to fund education.
Hogan said he estimates pot legalization could generate up to $500 million annually for a state with one of the lowest graduation rates in the nation.
On Wednesday, Hogan said he recently introduced A.B. 402 calling for the decriminalization and legalization of small amounts of marijuana for individuals 21 and older.
“It would create a system of managing that process of growing, the transportation, and the selling of the product. It would tax marijuana of every stage and all of the tax revenues will go to make up for the governor’s unwillingness to properly fund the education system. We are finding a way around a terrible problem of under-funding education and denying our young people a chance for an education by putting an end to a foolish and unsuccessful effort to banish marijuana, which has not worked,” he told the Pahrump Valley Times.
Hogan said the current laws in Nevada tend to do more harm than good in terms of needlessly punishing young adults who use pot recreationally.
He also considers pot a useful substance to treat certain medical disorders. Hogan noted that there has been limited research on the medicinal value of the drug by virtue that it still remains illegal in most states, which he feels is an unfortunate disservice to those who want access exclusively for medical reasons.
The assemblyman said he is working with a Southern Nevada doctor who has been a longtime advocate for legalizing the substance; Dr. Stephen Frye, aka “Dr. Pot.”
“We have a doctor who is a psychiatrist and former professor of medicine at the University of Nevada, Reno. He’s a lifelong medical practitioner with a great reputation who has also authored a book on the subject. He is quite an expert and is working with us every day to make sure we are getting all of the facts right and understanding the process. It is very helpful to have an expert volunteering to help us,” Hogan said.
The legislator pointed to other states, including Washington and Colorado, where ballot initiatives legalizing recreational marijuana use were successful during the 2012 election.
Lawmakers in Hawaii, New Mexico and Oregon are also looking at legalizing marijuana.
He also said there appears to be much support for legalization from colleagues, constituents, and even law enforcement.
With ongoing budget issues, the Nye County School District is always looking for ways to increase revenues.
Chief Financial Officer Ray Ritchie said creative methods to boost educational funding have been discussed time and time again on the state level.
Reaction from local residents was mixed.
“I think that would be the wrong idea in my opinion. It would just encourage people to think that its okay to use marijuana. It is not a good idea,” said local resident Brent Holzberger.
Former educator Johnnie Wall said she has a few reservations on the idea of legalizing pot to benefit education.
“I would really have to do more research before I could say one way or another,” she said.
One couple wholeheartedly agreed that taxing marijuana would be a great idea to help fund education.
“Tax the heck out of it. Do you know how many people can get marijuana every single day? If they taxed it and put it towards schooling, I think it would benefit everybody,” said one woman.
Hogan said the bill will be sent to a committee for hearings and a vote.
“It could well be a couple of months before it will emerge, hopefully, successfully from the process,” he said.