Area sheriffs have different strategies for dealing with new marijuana law

Possession of marijuana drops from a felony to a misdemeanor in Nevada today, but Carson City and Douglas County sheriffs' departments are warning that's no excuse for conduct they call "felony stupid" by pot smokers.

Carson City Chief Deputy Scott Burau said an prime example of "felony stupid" would be getting arrested the weekend before the new law takes effect.

"It may not end up in a report, but there's certainly going to be a heart-to-heart conversation with that idiot," he said.

"I think that lecture would probably come from his lawyer and even from a judge," said Douglas Chief Deputy Bob Wenner.

"I can almost guarantee you on Monday there's going to be some fool out there sitting on the Capitol steps smoking dope," said Wenner. "There's going to be some educational process."

Both men made it clear that any arrests before 12:01 a.m. today would be treated as felonies until and unless the prosecutor or judge decides to reduce the charge. And they said that, frankly, anyone that stupid deserves it.

Once the new law is in effect, Carson and Douglas plan to take different approaches to handling arrests.

In Carson City, Burau said a suspect caught with less than an ounce of pot will receive a misdemeanor citation and, unless there are other issues involved, be sent home.

He said that's how the department and District Attorney Noel Waters interpret the intent of the law.

"The state Legislature has made it clear they want to not decriminalize but certainly minimize the enforcement necessity," he said.

Wenner said Douglas plans to treat marijuana cases more formally, much like a first-time driving under the influence charge. The violator arrested in Douglas will be taken downtown and booked before being released.

"We'll handle it through a booking and a formal arrest process because the law says there's a progression," he said.

Wenner said that refers to increased penalties for a second, third or fourth offense. He said the more formal record will help support those enhanced penalties.

Burau said although Carson sheriff's deputies would handle most first offenses with no complicating factors as a citation, the department was giving deputies considerable latitude. He said if there is paraphernalia involved, a criminal history or evidence of deeper involvement in drugs, the deputy will have the ability to take a suspect into custody.

Assembly Bill 453 was introduced for two purposes. First, the bill by Assemblywoman Chris Giunchigliani, D-Las Vegas, set up the voter-mandated system for permitting medical marijuana.

That, too, takes effect today and by Friday, some 200 individuals had contacted the State Department of Agriculture seeking information and application packets to register as medical marijuana users.

The law also reduced Nevada's penalty for simple use or possession of pot from a felony; one of the nation's toughest penalties; to a misdemeanor.

The penalty for a first offense possession of less than an ounce is a maximum $600 fine and a drug addiction evaluation. The second offense is also a misdemeanor but with a fine of up to $1,000 and a mandatory drug abuse treatment program.

The third offense would be a gross misdemeanor and the fourth a felony for those Giunchigliani described as "really slow learners."

Nevada's penalties for trafficking and for use and possession of other drugs such as cocaine or methamphetamine remain among the nation's toughest and both Burau and Wenner said anyone caught in those activities will face the full weight of the law.


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