The time is certainly ripe for changing legislation and regulation in marijuana in the U.S., as Colorado and Washington have shown us, but what about for states that are slower to revise the laws on the books? Despite recent activist demonstrations on the steps outside Nevada’s Regional Justice Center that petition state officials to “regulate marijuana like alcohol,” Las Vegas cannabis defense lawyers and judges involved in criminal pot cases point to potential problems with scrapping some of the prosecutorial allowances, like in the disputed case of Steven Fianco, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reports.
Some criminal defense lawyers have acknowledged that state prosecutors “have started to shift their stance on pot,” including becoming more inclined to offer “more favorable negotiations than normal” for violations of Nevada’s possession laws (which stipulate that having less than an ounce of marijuana on-hand is a misdemeanor, while anything more is a felony—for non-medical marijuana card holders, since they get up to 2.5 ounces per person before getting into trouble). And even though “but everyone else is doing it” might not have saved you from detention in your school days for unruly behavior, it seems to be effective in Nevada’s pot prosecution, within certain limits.
Those limits were reached by Steven Fianco, whose case represented the clear intent to illegally traffic kilos of kush, which the Las Vegas criminal defense lawyers involved in his case protested, despite the “18 mason jars of pot on the bedroom floor, 50 jars of pot in a wine cooler, 40 jars in a freezer and 67 jars in a refrigerator.” Not to mention his stash of cash in excess of $50,000 and “14 handguns, eight rifles and four shotguns,” according to a police report from officers who searched his home with a warrant.
But Fianco is still arguing that all that marijuana was medical, and to be used only by him. All 24 pounds of finished product of it. The cash? And the guns? They were “not assault rifles or sawed off shotguns, but antique lever action rifles, collectible pistol sets and historical muskets,” Fianco’s lawyer has protested in court. The cash was unexplained, but the vast amounts of cannabis stocked up was reported to be because Fianco needed relief from “the debilitating effects of pain from a previous car accident” and chronic arthritis and scoliosis.
Legally, though, Fianco’s case didn’t stand up, but not because Nevada state laws draw a clear line. The problem, according to many Las Vegas cannabis defense lawyers, is that “this haphazard system has resulted in great confusion, inconsistency, and arbitrary enforcement against well-intentioned citizens” in some cases, and treating some true traffickers to a get-out-of-jail-free card.
For now, though, Nevada’s pot laws remain strictly medicinal, which Fianco’s presiding judge sees as a privilege and responsibility: “you must be very careful not to overstep the bounds of the law,” he said in a ruling of the case. This was District Judge James Bixler withdrew from the case Fianco’s lawyer filed before him, probably because Bixler himself has applied for a business license to grow medical marijuana in Clark County in business with his family and an attorney. Nevada is on the cusp of change, indeed, but until then individuals like Fianco should probably be more careful to color in the lines—the best way to avoid the felony he now faces.