CARSON CITY, Nevada (BNW) -- In Nevada, they love gambling and tolerate prostitution. Now they are talking about legalizing pot, and its about pot time.
A measure on the ballot November 5 would make Nevada the first state to allow adults to possess marijuana -- up to 3 ounces, enough for maybe 100 joints.
People over 21 would be allowed to smoke it in their homes but not in cars or public places. Pot would be sold in state-licensed smoke shops and taxed like cigarettes.
"This initiative will allow the police to spend more time going after murderers, rapists and other violent criminals," said Billy Rogers, leader of the group that is pushing the measure.
Whether it could actually take effect is unclear. Federal law bans marijuana possession, and the White House has come out strongly against the idea. Also, Nevada voters would have to approve the proposal again in 2004 before it became law.
Nevada, home of the nation's gambling capital, has long had a fondness for what others forbid. Although prostitution is banned in Las Vegas, Reno, Carson City -- and in 49 states -- it is legal in 10 of Nevada's 17 counties. The 30 licensed brothels in the state are monitored by the state Health Division. In addition, Las Vegas has a multitude of outcall entertainment services that are thought to be fronts for call-girl businesses.
But the vote on marijuana represents a remarkable about-face in Nevada's attitudes toward pot.
A year ago, Nevada had one of the nation's strictest marijuana laws. Possession of a single joint was a felony punishable by a year or more in prison.
In 2000, Nevada voters approved the use of medical marijuana, and the Legislature voted in 2001 to make possession of less than an ounce of pot a misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine.
Opinion polls on the marijuana measure show Nevadans almost evenly split, with opponents gaining ground.
"What message are we sending our youth if this initiative passes? That it's OK to take drugs?" said school counselor Teresa Jempsa. "If marijuana becomes legal, then what drug is next?"
The plan was put on the November ballot after the group led by Rogers, Nevadans for Responsible Law Enforcement, gathered the necessary 75,000 signatures.
Other states are debating looser marijuana laws, but none are considering legalization for recreational purposes.
Arizona voters will soon decide on making possession of up to 2 ounces a non-criminal violation punishable by a maximum fine of $250. San Francisco is exploring the idea of growing pot on public lots and distributing it to ill people.
Ohio has the most lenient law in the nation, with possession of less than 100 grams -- nearly 4 ounces -- bringing a citation and $100 fine.
In Nevada, law enforcement officials oppose the legalization measure. Undersheriff Richard Winget in Las Vegas said 3 ounces would produce enough marijuana joints to supply a small-time drug dealer.
And Washoe County District Attorney Richard Gammick said the argument that Nevada would earn millions in tax dollars is "a ruse on the voting public."
Federal Drug Enforcement Administration chief Asa Hutchinson and federal drug czar John P. Walters visited the state to underscore the Bush administration's opposition.
"I don't think Las Vegas and Nevada want to become the center for drug tourism," Walters said.
Jeff Oakes, a North Las Vegas resident, said he supports legalization.
"As of right now," he said, "the most dangerous effect of marijuana possession and use is jail."