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Ex-GOP's Secret Service Run-In Leads To Pot Legalization Stance

David McNew/Getty Images

Just nine years ago, Joe Brezny was the state campaign manager for Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney.

Romney won the Nevada caucuses by a resounding 39 percent.

And Brezny’s Republican bona fides were essentially stamped. He could have run campaigns for almost anyone in the country.

Today, he is at the forefront of a very big political campaign -- but not for a candidate. It’s to legalize the recreational use of marijuana in Nevada.

In November, voters here will vote up or down on legalization.

Brezny, who went from a suit-and-tie guy to pot guy to volunteering his time with the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, believes legalization will happen.

“People are ready for this," he told KNPR's State of Nevada, "I think they’ve seen in Colorado and Oregon that there isn’t blood in the streets that this has gone largely without incident and this is a better way."

Brezny said he got into the campaign to change the marijuana laws after getting caught smoking marijuana by a Secret Service agent while on the campaign trail with Mitt Romney. 

The agent didn't tell anyone but Brezny realized the consequences would have been dire.

“I would have lost my career," he said, "I would have lost not just that job but I would have been un-hirable on the Republican side as an operative because even back then it is very differently viewed than it is today.”

He said many people campaigning for legalized and regulated recreational marijuana ended up in the fight because they lost a job or an opportunity, like law school, because they were caught with a little bit of pot.

Brezny believes people view marijuana use differently than they did when he was caught by the Secret Service agent. He said people realize that marijuana is no more harmful than alcohol. 

"We’re managing alcohol because we saw that the prohibition of that failed and the prohibition of marijuana has also failed," Brezny said. "The War on Drugs has been an abject failure."

He said the effort to regulate marijuana is similar to how prohibition of alcohol was repealed in the 1930s. A few states started to see how the effort to stop alcohol consumption wasn't working and changed the laws. Eventually, the federal government rolled back prohibition. 

Brezny said ending the prohibition of marijuana in Nevada will under cut drug cartels.

“There is headline after headline that shows that the cartels can’t make money in that regulated market that we’re driving the cartels out of Colorado and Oregon," he said.

However, he does admit that there are a small number of people who use marijuana that form a habit. He is careful not to call it an addiction, because said there is no evidence that marijuana is an addictive substance.

Brezny said about 3 percent of the populationruns into problems, but regulating the drug would help them as well because unlike drug dealers, who want to keep distributing, shops can provide help to people who have a habit. 

“We want to service the 97 percent of the people who don’t get in trouble with this and then take care of the 3 percent who do,” he said.


Joe Brezny, spokesman, Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol

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Joe Schoenmann joined Nevada Public Radio in 2014. He works with a talented team of producers at State of Nevada who explore the casino industry, sports, politics, public health and everything in between.