LAS VEGAS -- Nevada has many paths toward diversifying its economy. One controversial way would be to legalize many of the vices and illegal activity that already occurs in the city.
Could legalizing prostitution, pornography filming and marijuana be a game changer for Nevada's troubled economy?
You've heard the arguments from advocates of the adult and marijuana communities that legalization means tax revenue. It's a deal that some cities in California have made and are reaping some tax benefits. So, would legalization work for Nevada?
There was a time that gambling was illegal in Nevada. From 1910 to 1931, gaming was an underground, un-taxed business in what was still the Wild West. But Nevada lawmakers changed their mind. Could the same be done for other morally controversial activities? Former Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman has long been a champion of bringing these issues into the public debate.
"People get all excited when you say we should discuss the legalization of marijuana, you should discuss the legalization of prostitution. I'm not advocating it, but discussing it in a free society, in an intelligent rational society, is a good thing," Goodman said.
Many Nevada counties have legal brothels. Despite the call girls and escort services advertised on the Las Vegas Strip, prostitution is illegal in Clark County.
"Sheriff Gillespie says there's 30,000 working in Clark County illegally a year. Take 1,000 women working legally, a minimum of half-a-billion dollars every two years would go direct to either Clark County or Las Vegas just from the formula that we've worked out as their share of the gross," said George Flint of the Nevada Brothel Owners Association.
Flint, a lobbyist, says he's pushing for a red-light district to be set up in Clark County and claims more lawmakers are listening.
"There is one legislator, right now, whose entertaining the concept of a bill and I have three or four others that have indicated to me, that if the bill goes forward, they'll probably be on the pro side of supporting it," he said.
Last month, the I-Team took a trip to Hollywood where new condom laws are making the Los Angeles porn studios consider moving to Las Vegas. Nevada law currently forbids studios from shooting pornographic films here.
"There is a pretty big porn presence already here in Vegas. Webcaming is growing to no end. It's gigantic right now. It's more interactive. That's going on a lot out here. If the big companies come out, again, it's just going to grow even more," said Bill Sifert with Intimate Moments Film Studio.
"They've filled facilities that are otherwise empty, they're spending money on rents, they're spending money buying cars. They're spending money buying equipment. They're spending money hiring local people and they bring in an influx of money into the town," said Marc Randazza, Randazza Legal Group.
When it comes to legalizing marijuana, Nevada has a complicated history due to a confusing set of laws that make medicinal use legal but leaves few ways to actually obtain the marijuana.
Recently, District Court Judge Donald Mosley called Nevada's marijuana laws "ridiculous" and "absurd."
Marijuana dispensary owners say their taxes will contribute to Nevada's economy, as long as government regulation doesn't burn them out.
"I can go down to any gun store here in town, and within three minutes, they'll get me background checked and approved to buy a firearm. I'm asking to use a non-toxic, non-lethal plant for medical purposes," said James Parsons of Medical Cannabis Consultants of Nevada.
Nevada once turned towards morally controversial gambling to save its economy. A look at the Las Vegas Strip answers just how well it worked out.
Vices will exist in an underground economy no matter how hard law enforcement cracks down but should taxpayers learn to tolerate it for financial gain? Most of decisions needed to legalize these activities would have to come from lawmakers in Carson City. There's a judicial push to get the legislature to better define marijuana laws next year.
There's also a small chance we may see our first Clark County prostitution bill next session, but its chances for passing through committee look slim. As for porn studios, there does not yet appear to be any organized lobbying effort to change state law to allow filming.
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