Virginia is for lovers … and sensible marijuana policy?
After several years without legislative action, a slew of marijuana policy reform bills were introduced this session. Sen. Adam Ebbin led the charge with SB 686, which would have replaced criminal penalties for personal possession of marijuana with a $100 civil fine. Unfortunately, the bill has already been axed by the Senate Court of Justice Committee in a vote along party lines, with five Democrats in support and nine Republicans opposed.
This committee’s verdict is not representative of public opinion. A poll this month by Christopher Newport University's Wason Center for Public Policy reported that seven in 10 Virginia voters support decriminalizing small amounts of marijuana.
Just last year, lawmakers in Washington, D.C. and Maryland decriminalized simple possession of marijuana. Meanwhile, on Virginia’s southern border, North Carolina has had a weak decriminalization law on the books since the 1970s. Please write your legislators and ask them to support the will of their constituents next session. You can ask them to call for the state to legalize marijuana and regulate it like alcohol, or to take a more modest reform such as citing and fining – rather than arresting and criminalizing – marijuana users.
Additionally, the medical use of cannabis is also finally under consideration. Three bills have been introduced, intending to allow certain seriously ill patients to use certain types of cannabis. However, all three bills are hopelessly narrow, and none allow for access to the medicine. Please ask your legislators to support a comprehensive medical cannabis law that would help treat seriously ill Virginians! To find out when effective cannabis legislation is next introduced in Virginia, make sure you’re subscribed to our email alerts and you’ll be the first to know.
Learn more about Virginia's marijuana laws
Did you know that in Virginia, of the 23,402 marijuana-related arrests reported by state law enforcement in 2012, 89% were for mere possession? That same year, nearly half of all reported rapes and 80% of all burglaries were not solved. In Virginia, possession of even a single joint is punishable by up to 30 days of incarceration along with a $500 fine.
Although African Americans and whites use marijuana at nearly the same rate, the enforcement of marijuana laws has been far from equal. This report by the ACLU found that blacks are about three times as likely to be arrested for marijuana possession as whites.
To stay updated on the status of marijuana policy reform in Virginia, be sure to subscribe to MPP’s free legislative alert service.