Nevada's Republican governor, Brian Sandoval, Wednesday signed into law two drug reform measures, one allowing for medical marijuana dispensaries and one removing syringes from the state's drug paraphernalia law.
[image:1 align:left]On the medical marijuana front, Sandoval signed into law Senate Bill 374, which will establish a state-regulated system of dispensaries. The law envisions up to 66 dispensaries across the state, with up to 40 in Las Vegas, 10 in Reno, and at least one in each county.
"We applaud Gov. Sandoval and the legislature for their leadership and commend those law enforcement organizations that expressed support for this much-needed legislation," said Karen O'Keefe, director of state policies for the Marijuana Policy Project, who testified in support of the bill. "It will make Nevada a safer and healthier place not only for medical marijuana patients, but for the entire community. This new law will provide patients with the safe and reliable access to medical marijuana that they deserve," O'Keefe said. "Regulating medical marijuana sales will also generate revenue and take a bite out of the state's underground marijuana market."
Introduced by Sens. Tick Segerblom (D-Las Vegas) and Mark Hutchison (R-Las Vegas), the bill creates rules and regulations not only for dispensaries, but also infused product manufacturers and cultivation and testing facilities. It also imposes 2% excise taxes on both wholesale and retail sales, with 75% of those revenues going to the education fund and 25% going to cover the cost of regulating the medical marijuana industry.
The state's voter-approved medical marijuana law, passed twice in 1998 and 2000, required the legislature to create a medical marijuana program that included appropriate methods of supplying medical marijuana to patients. Now, the legislature has finally done so. Nevada will now join Arizona, Colorado, Maine, New Jersey, New Mexico, and Rhode Island on the list of states that have state-regulated dispensaries. Two more jurisdictions, Washington, DC, and Vermont should come on board this summer, and the rule-making process for dispensaries is underway in Connecticut and Massachusetts.
On the harm reduction front, Sandoval signed into law Senate Bill 410, which decriminalizes the possession of syringes by removing them from the state's drug paraphernalia list. That opens the way for the over-the-counter sale of syringes and needle exchange programs.
"Back in 1996 when first elected, I was asked what bills I'd be pursuing for my first legislative session," said Sen. David Parks (D-Las Vegas). "My response was employment non-discrimination, HIV/AIDS state funding and decriminalization of hypodermic devices. Little did I know it would be my 9th session before decriminalization of hypodermic devices would come to fruition."
Nevada becomes the 37th state to decriminalize syringe possession and allow for the over-the-counter sale of needles, as well as needle exchange programs, proven means of reducing the transmission of HIV, viral hepatitis, and other blood-borne infections.
Nevada harm reduction workers said they were ready to get a needle exchange up and running as soon as the law takes effect.
Northern Nevada HOPES in Reno plans to start a syringe exchange program as soon as the law takes effect. Director Sharon Chamberlain says, "In addition to getting sterile syringe out to those who need them, our program will increase safe syringe disposal by individuals in the community," said Sharon Chamberlain, director of Northern Nevada HOPES in Reno. "We will educate these users about the new and needed community disposal options, and strongly encourage them to take advantage of this resource. Previously, no community initiatives provided safe disposal options. "
Our friends at the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union attended the international harm reduction conference in Vilnius, Lithuania, this week
Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin (D) Wednesday signed into law two bills aimed at reducing the toll of drug overdose deaths in the state. House Bill 65 provides limited legal protection for those who witness or experience a drug or alcohol overdose and summon medical assistance, while House Bill 522 permits prescription of the opiate-antagonist drug Naloxone to third parties and provides limited immunity for such prescription as well as administration of the drug.
[image:1 align:right]"We cannot break our focus on this critical issue, because drug addiction harms not just the individuals ensnared in it but also our families and communities," Shumlin said. "I pledge to continue to work with mayors, law enforcement, medical and mental health experts and legislators to fight this problem, and will be focusing between now and January on the next steps in this battle."
HB 65, the "Good Samaritan" bill is the broadest of its kind. While 13 states and the District of Columbia have enacted such bills, Vermont's is the first to provide protection from arrest or all drug offenses -- not just possession -- as well as protections against asset forfeiture. It also provides protection against the revocation of parole or probation or the violation of restraining orders for people who seek help for overdose victims.
"Criminalization should not be a barrier to calling 911," said Lindsay LaSalle, an attorney with the Drug Policy Alliance. "The Vermont legislature has aptly recognized that saving a life is of paramount importance to the prosecution of any nonviolent drug crime."
HB 522 is the bill that expands access to Naloxone, which is credited with reversing more than 10,000 overdoses nationwide since 1996. The bill also provides immunity from civil or criminal liability for Naloxone providers.
"Implementation of these new laws by public health and law enforcement officials is critical to improving public willingness to immediately seek medical assistance for overdoses involving illegal drugs and alcohol use as well as to administer Naloxone to opioid overdose victims," said LaSalle.