Nevada voters pass initiatives on legal marijuana, gun laws and school funding

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Nicole Skarlotos/Nevada Sagebrush

The decision of Nevada voters on some ballot measures in this election were close; others were voted in by a landslide. Nevertheless, initiatives to legalize recreational marijuana, close gun sale loopholes and to break up Nevada Energy’s monopoly were all passed. Washoe county voters also approved a sales tax increase to fund local public schools.

Nevada Question One asked voters to decide on whether or not to prohibit the sale or transfer of a firearm to another person unless the transaction goes through a federally-licensed dealer first who conducts a federal background check on the potential buyer or transferee. In a very tight race, the question passed by a 50.4 percent vote.

Nevada Question Two passed in another close race with a 54 to 45 percent vote. Question Two asked voters to approve or deny the initiative to allow people ages 21 and older to purchase, possess and consume one ounce of marijuana, as well as transport, distribute or sell marijuana paraphernalia. The question also pledged a 15 percent excise tax on wholesale sales of marijuana, as well as requiring regulation and licensing of marijuana sellers, distributors, suppliers and retailers.

Washoe County Question One asked voters to approve a sales tax to increase the funding for Washoe County School District to renovate old schools and construct new schools to combat overcrowding. Washoe County voters approved the question with overwhelming support at 57 percent.

How does Question One change gun sales?

With the narrow passage of Question one, Nevada chose to close a gun loophole that previously allowed gun purchasers to avoid background checks if they purchased the gun from a private individual at gun shows, on the internet or through a friend.

The question makes the same requirements necessary for private transactions of firearms as through licensed dealers.

Historically, state leaders have been against passing laws requiring background checks for the purchase of firearms. In 2013, the Legislature, controlled by Democrats, passed a bill that would require a background check for all firearm transactions. Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval vetoed the bill and said it was an “erosion of Nevadans’ Second Amendment rights under the United States Constitution and may subject otherwise law-abiding citizens to criminal prosecution.” Sandoval also said in 2013 that the bill would have forced “unreasonable burdens and harsh penalties upon law-abiding Nevadans, while doing little to prevent criminals from unlawfully obtaining guns.”

His main concern was that transferring guns among family members would have required a background check.

The current law, before the recent passage of Nevada Question One, states that people who purchase a gun from a licensed dealer have to go through a background check. Private sales are not regulated whatsoever.

The governor’s veto in 2013 against the law requiring background checks on all gun sales led to the question Nevada voters saw on the ballot last Tuesday.

Beginning Jan. 1, Nevada will require background checks on all gun sales, with reasonable exceptions for family, hunting and self-defense.

“This fight was in honor of all those killed by senseless gun violence and today we are one step closer to making Nevada a safer place for all of us. That’s something we should all be proud of,” said Elaine Wynn, Co-Chair of the Yes on 1 Campaign, a campaign dedicated to ensuring the passage of Question One, in a statement.

So when does the pot party begin?

Yes, Nevada approved legal marijuana on Election Day, but do not be too quick to partake in the new law because it does not come into effect until after Jan. 1.

After Jan. 1, medical marijuana can be used and possessed by adults 21 years and older, but they may only possess up to one ounce of marijuana or an eighth of an ounce of cannabis concentrate. However, it is unclear when the public will be able to purchase marijuana from a store because the Taxation Department has up until Jan. 1, 2018, to create regulations and licensing for stores wishing to sell legal marijuana.

State Sen. Tick Segerblom from Las Vegas told the Las Vegas Review-Journal that he would like to use Oregon’s tactic for regulating marijuana after it was passed in their state. Oregon voted to approve retail marijuana in 2014 and the Legislature allowed medical marijuana dispensaries the right to sell residents marijuana while lawmakers completed the full regulations. However, the state still has not confirmed how it will craft the regulations.

One regulation the state has in place is the number of retail marijuana stores that can exist in Nevada’s different counties. The number of stores allowed is based on each county’s population. Clark County can have up to 80 marijuana stores, Washoe can have up to 20 and the other counties will only be allowed up to two stores.

Smoking and using marijuana in public will remain illegal in Nevada and is punishable by a fine up to $600. Driving while high is still a crime under the marijuana DUI law and companies will still be able to drug-test employees and possible employees for marijuana and can terminate them for failing the test.

Nevada residents ages 21 and up, under the new law can grow up to six marijuana plants per individual.

When do the children get new schools and when does your sales tax increase?

With the high amount of support for Washoe County Question One, Washoe County School District will receive money from an increase sales tax to fund projects to renovate existing schools and construct new schools in the district. District officials say $781 million is what they need to fund those projects.

The district says the schools are overcrowded, with 64,000 students registered in Washoe County schools. They estimate that they need nine new elementary schools, three middle schools and three high schools over the next couple of years. The WCSD will not see any of the money to start funding these projects until after June estimates Washoe County School District Chief Operations Officer Pete Etchart.

The Washoe County sales tax will increase from 7.725 percent to 8.265 percent, making Washoe County the county with the highest sales tax rate in the state.

Washoe County residents will not see the sales tax increase until April 2017.

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