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Friday, January 28, 2005 9:34 p.m. ET By KEN RITTER Associated Press Writer
LAS VEGAS (AP) -- Three state initiatives _ including one that would make Nevada the first state to legalize possession of small amounts of marijuana _ were revived Friday when a judge ruled that the secretary of state was wrong to raise petition requirements while signatures were being gathered.
If the Legislature does not approve the initiatives, including two anti-smoking measures, they will end up on the 2006 election ballot.
Nevada Secretary of State Dean Heller's office had issued a guide that said petition-gathers needed to submit 51,337 valid signatures, based on 10 percent of the voter turnout in the 2002 election.
By November, organizers of all three petition drives submitted enough signatures to meet that goal, but last month Heller decided the requirement actually should be based on voter turnout in the November 2004 election.
None of the petitioners gathered the 83,156 signatures needed to meet the new standard, but U.S. District Court Judge James Mahan, ruling in the marijuana case, said the original standard still applied.
"The judge ruled they can't change the rules in the middle of the game," said Allen Lichtenstein, an attorney for American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada, which backed the challenge by the Marijuana Policy Project.
Mahan referred not only to the petition guide, but to a precedent Heller established when he used the results of the 2000 election to qualify a medical malpractice petition for the ballot in 2002.
Heller spokesman Steve George said the secretary of state will move all three petitions forward to the Legislature, which convenes Feb. 7. It will have 40 days to approve the measures, or they automatically go on the 2006 election ballot.
Heller had acted on state Attorney General Brian Sandoval's advice in changing the signature requirement. A spokesman for Sandoval declined immediate comment Friday.
The marijuana initiative would allow adults to possess up to an ounce of the drug for personal use. If the measure is approved Nevada, one of 11 states to allow medical marijuana, would become the first to decriminalize among the general population.
Alaska voters in November rejected a measure to decriminalize marijuana, although court rulings in that state have supported the right of adults to possess small amounts of the drug.
Nevada voters in 2002 overwhelmingly rejected a measure to legalize up to 3 ounces of marijuana.
The latest initiative would increase penalties for providing marijuana to minors or for causing a fatal accident while driving under the influence of the substance. Marijuana would be taxed, with revenue earmarked for drug and alcohol treatment and education programs.
The other two revived initiatives are competing measures that would limit smoking in public buildings. One is supported by the American Cancer Society and American Heart Association, and a less-restrictive alternative is backed by casinos and bars.
-------------------- No, no, you're not thinking, you're just being logical. ~ Niels Bohr