But, of course, nobody gets prison time for a first offense from out of state. The budget crunch dictates diversion of one sort or another to avoid the costs of incarceration, estimated at something under $20,000 a year. Sometimes the cost is cut by sending miscreant marijuana smokers to less than a year in county jail, which seems like a break until you consider the conditions in most of Nevada’ s 17 counties. Instead of “three hots and cot” it’s one warm and sleeping four on the floor in plastic bunk buckets.
And the backup in prison transfers offers prison gangsters and serious felons as cellmates, a real thrill for the average citizen whose crime is puffing for pleasure after a long day at the office.
Nevada’s basic law is based on the “magic ounce” made famous in Dennis Peron’s San Francisco trials where he pointed out that possession of an ounce implied that somebody possessed a pound and if one ounce was legal then so was the pound. Considering the fact that average pot smokers consume around half an ounce a week, the conclusion is that someone is committing a crime twice every month to avoid a felony charge. If one is caught with more than an ounce, Nevada claims “intent to sell,” enhancing the charge and giving the district attorney a chip in the plea bargaining process that substitutes for justice in nearly every case.
Now Nevada, like every state, reserves the right to make and enforce such laws as it sees fit, but the issue here is the mistreatment of average citizens in the legal system and the appropriate penalty for victimless crimes of a petty nature. Along with the above-mentioned discomforts, convicted pot heads must register as felons, complete with fingerprinting and a card to identify you to any police inquiring. You must register any change of address and report to the local sheriff if changing counties or states. And that applies for the rest of your life, barring some later court compassion. A harsh price to pay for a few pleasant puffs of nature’s anti-depressant.
America is slowly coming around in its thinking on drugs in general and our punitive approach to whatever problem they pose. Nevada, which has profited amply from allowing a bit more sin and pleasure than the rest of the west, should look to its Legislature to get ahead of the wave and reform its cruel and unusual laws.
“Travus T. Hipp” is a 40-year veteran radio commentator with six stations in California carrying his daily version of the news and opinions. “The Poor Hippy’s Paul Harvey,” Travus is a member of the Nevada Broadcasters Hall of Fame, but unemployable in the Silver State due to his eclectic political views.