A bill that lets seriously ill patients use marijuana for medical purposes was signed into law Thursday by Nevada Gov. Kenny Guinn.
The measure signed by the Republican governor also relaxes one of the toughest drug possession laws in the nation, downgrading the charge for possession of small amounts from a felony to a misdemeanor.
The law change was sought by Assemblywoman Chris Giunchigliani (D-Las Vegas), who said, "It's time that Nevada closed the door on antiquated drug policies and reduced possession of an ounce or less to a misdemeanor and focused its efforts on prevention and treatment."
Seriously ill Nevadans will be able to have up to seven marijuana plants for personal use. A state registry will be created for patients whose doctors recommend they use marijuana for medical reasons.
Also, the state will be able to apply to the federal government for permission to sponsor medical research into whether marijuana helps ease pain, nausea or other symptoms of seriously ill patients.
For people other than registered patients, possession of an ounce or less of marijuana now is a misdemeanor carrying a $600 fine, with escalating fines for subsequent offenses. Possession won't become a felony until the fourth offense.
Nevadans voted overwhelmingly in 1998 and 2000 to amend the Nevada Constitution to authorize use of marijuana by those suffering from cancer, AIDS, glaucoma and other painful and potentially terminal illnesses.
The task of implementing the voters' mandate was left to the 2001 Legislature. The lawmakers took action despite a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling in a California case that determined a federal law classifying the drug as illegal makes no exception for ill patients.