Giving or selling marijuana to minors, driving under the influence or using pot in public would remain illegal under the Nevada measure.
The proposal would impose a 15 percent tax on wholesale pot sales, while retail transactions would be taxed at existing sales tax rates. Net revenues would go into the Distributive School Account to support public schools.
Nevada voters rejected efforts to legalize small amounts of marijuana in 2002 and 2006. A bill with the same goal died in the 2013 Legislature.
Backers of the latest effort will need to collect about 102,000 signatures to send the matter to the 2015 Legislature. If lawmakers reject it or take no action, it would go to voters the following year.
Joe Brezny with the Nevada campaign said acceptance of marijuana use has been growing in recent decades, and supporters believe the time is right to pass it in Silver State.
"For the past 20 years it's been this slow upward tick," he said. The move also is strategic, with a goal of getting the proposal before voters during the 2016 presidential election when more young voters tend to turn out than in midterm elections.
The initiative comes as Nevada is implementing a taxing, regulatory and distribution structure for medical marijuana. Voters approved pot for medicinal purposes in 2000, but the only way patients with medical cards could obtain it was to grow it.
That changed last year, when state lawmakers approved and Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval signed a bill setting up a medical marijuana supply chain. Last month the state health division approved regulations for cultivation operations, testing laboratories, processing kitchens and dispensaries.
Sandoval does not support decriminalization of marijuana for recreational use, his office said Wednesday.
Brezny was the Republican state Senate caucus director under the late Sen. Bill Raggio from 2002 to 2007, and was state director for GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney in 2008.
"Coming from that side of the aisle, it's very clear now that cannabis legalization is no longer a left-right issue," said Brezny, who is now registered as a nonpartisan. He added the goal of legalization is to tax an underground industry, regulate it and "keep it away from kids."
Brezny said the new initiative leaves the state's medical marijuana structure in place, though licensed medicinal establishments could apply for separate licenses to offer recreational products.
Cities and counties are finalizing their own zoning requirements for medical pot operations or deciding whether they want to allow them at all. In Clark County, 206 applications from people seeking to start medical marijuana-related businesses in the Las Vegas area were submitted to the Business License Department by a Tuesday deadline.
The county will decide which applications to accept and forward to the state for final licensure.
Like medical marijuana regulations, the initiative carries hefty application fees for recreational pot businesses.
It calls for one-time application fees of $5,000, in addition to initial licensing fees ranging from $10,000 to $30,000 depending on the type of facility, with annual license renewals from $3,300 to $10,000.