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After decades of red-state antics, is Nevada finally seeing a progressive movement?

Nevada has long been a confusing state for millions of visitors who come here every year expecting a place where anything goes. Prostitution may have been legalized in scattered spots of the Silver State eons ago, but in Las Vegas it remains illegal, and that may never change. In fact, the closer you look at Nevada, the more you come to realize how conservative this bastion of sin really is—at least, until this year.

The last few months have been something of a watershed in Nevada history, with three significant events pointing the way to a much more progressive future:

• In April, Senate Bill 374, a bill that permits the licensing of non-profit medical marijuana dispensaries, was unanimously approved by the Nevada Senate. We reiterate: unanimously approved. The use of medical marijuana was approved by voters way back in 2000, but the implementation of the law has been a complete mess. The law states that patients or caregivers are allowed to grow up to seven plants, but that obtaining the seeds—or buying the drug directly—is illegal. The bill still needs to clear several hurdles, but this could be the first significant step toward providing a functional medical marijuana system in Nevada, one where users aren’t continually looking over their shoulders for fear they’ve broken the law. As Senator Tick Segerblom, who introduced the legislation, so eloquently put it, “If Arizona, which is the most conservative state in the country, can do it, then Nevada can do it.”

• Also in April, the state Senate voted 12 to 9 for Senate Joint Resolution 13, which sets in motion the eventual repeal of Nevada’s gay marriage ban. Nevada voters twice approved constitutional amendments—in 2000 and 2002—to amend the state’s constitution defining marriage as between a man and a woman, but what a difference 11 years makes. In one of the Senate’s more emotional debates, Sen. Kelvin Atkinson of North Las Vegas publicly came out on the Senate floor, saying “I’m black. I’m gay. I know this is the first time many of you have heard me say that I am a black, gay male.”

SJR13 now goes to the Assembly, and if passed by the Legislature this session and again in 2015, it will go to the voters in 2016.

• After decades of Republicans protecting the state’s mining industry from higher taxes, a group of GOP state senators this year expressed their desire to double the net proceeds of minerals tax—an estimated $600 million for education. When the Party of No does a 180 on such a sacred cow—not to mention helping to salvage one of the country’s worst education systems—it’s hard to argue there’s not a sea change taking place in the desert.

10 Maximum number of medical marijuana dispensaries that would be allowed in Clark County under SB 374.

5% Current cap on mining taxes in Nevada’s constitution; a group of Republican state senators wants to raise it to 10 percent.

87% The increase in gay and lesbian households in Nevada from 2000 to 2010, according to the U.S. Census.

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Ken Miller is Las Vegas Weekly's associate editor, having previously served as assistant features editor at the Las Vegas Sun ...

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