State of Cannabis: Nevada

This is proving to be a big year for cannabis. As a result, we are ranking the fifty states from worst to best on how they treat cannabis and those who consume it. Each of our State of Cannabis posts will analyze one state and our final post will crown the best state for cannabis. As is always the case, but particularly so with this series, we welcome your comments. We are now working through the top ten. The remaining states all have legalized medical marijuana and the criminal penalties in the remaining states range from bad to good, but many have decriminalized the possession of small amounts of marijuana. Now we turn to state number nine: Nevada.

Our previous rankings are as follows: 10. Hawaii; 11. Maryland; 12. Connecticut; 13. Vermont; 14. Rhode Island; 15. Kentucky; 16.Pennsylvania; 17.Delaware; 18. Michigan; 19. New Hampshire; 20. Ohio; 21. New Jersey; 22. Illinois; 23. Minnesota; 24. New York; 25. Wisconsin; 26. Arizona; 27. West Virginia; 28. Indiana; 29. North Carolina; 30. Utah;  31. South Carolina; 32. Tennessee; 33. North Dakota; 34.Georgia; 35. Louisiana; 36. Mississippi; 37. Nebraska; 38. Missouri; 39. Florida; 40. Arkansas; 41. Montana; 42. Iowa; 43. Virginia; 44. Wyoming; 45. Texas;  46. Kansas;  47. Alabama;  48. Idaho; 49. Oklahoma;  50. South Dakota.


Criminal Penalties. Nevada punishes possession of less than one ounce of marijuana with a $600 fine or a mandatory assessment for addiction. A second offense earns a $1,000 fine or mandatory treatment. A third offense earns up to a year in prison and a $2,000 fine. A fourth offense earns 1-4 years in prison and a fine of $5,000. Courts can defer possession offenses if the defendant agrees to undergo treatment.

The sale or delivery of cannabis is punished as follows in Nevada:

  • Less than 100 pounds earns 1-4 years in prison and a fine up to $5,000.
  • 100-2,000 pounds of marijuana earns 1-5 years imprisonment and a fine up to $25,000.
  • 2,000-10,000 pounds earns 2-10 years imprisonment and a fine up to $50,000.
  • Over 10,000 pounds earns a minimum of five years and a maximum life sentence with the possibility of parole or a sentence of 15 years with the possibility of parole after 5 years and a fine up to $200,000.

Medical Marijuana. Nevada first legalized medical cannabis in 2000, but the state did not approve of retail cannabis distribution and production until 2013. In a prior post, we published the below infographic to show the basics of Nevada’s medical program:

Recreational Marijuana. When Nevada overhauled its medical marijuana program, many (including us) thought it did so with an eye towards creating a full-scale recreational cannabis market in 2016. On November 8th, Nevada voters will consider Question 2, also knowns as the Marijuana Legalization Initiative. If it passes, this initiative will allow adults over 21 to possess up to one ounce of marijuana flower or one-eighth of an ounce of concentrated marijuana. Those who live farther than 25 miles from a licensed store could grow up to six plants in an enclosed and locked area. Nevada’s Department of Taxation would regulate the legal cannabis market. The Initiative would create licenses for the five following “marijuana establishments”:

  • Cultivation Facilities: Licensed to cultivate, process, and package cannabis.
  • Testing Facilities: Licensed to test cannabis and cannabis products. This includes testing for potency and contaminants.
  • Product Manufacturing Facilities: Licensed to purchase, manufacture, process, and package cannabis. Licensed to sell to other manufacturing facilities and retail stores, but not to consumers.
  • Distributors: Licensed to transport cannabis from one establishment to another establishment.
  • Retail Marijuana Stores: Licensed to purchase from cultivation facilities, product manufacturing facilities, and other retailers and then to sell cannabis products to consumers.

Nevada’s Department of Taxation will license and regulate recreational cannabis and start accepting license applications within twelve months of Question 2’s passage. The Department will only accept applications for retail marijuana stores, product manufacturing facilities, and cultivation facilities from registered medical marijuana businesses for the first 18 months. During that same period, only wholesale liquor dealers can apply for marijuana distributor licenses, unless the Department determines there are an insufficient number of distributors given this limitation.

Bottomline. Nevada has some harsh criminal penalties, but they are reserved for the sale and delivery of large amounts of cannabis. Those caught possessing a small amount of cannabis have options to enter into a treatment center in lieu of jail time. Nevada’s established medical marijuana program should lay the groundwork for a legal recreational market if voters approve Question 2. And who can forget Las Vegas? The City of Sin is already a major travel destination and legal pot could make it a mecca for cannabis tourism. For all of these reasons, Nevada ranks number nine in our State of Cannabis series.


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