Marijuana wins big in Virginia
Last update: December 6, 2017
On November 7, the voters of Virginia elected former Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam to be the next governor of the commonwealth. During the campaign, Northam made marijuana policy reform an important issue, stating: “We need to change sentencing laws that disproportionately hurt people of color. One of the best ways to do this is to decriminalize marijuana.” He has also expressed that he is open to the potential medical benefits of marijuana.
In addition to the governorship, Democrats won many more seats in the House of Delegates than anyone predicted. After the election, Republicans will hold the majority by a very slim margin, but this may change, as recounts of the election results continue. It remains to be seen how these new democratic legislators will address marijuana policy reform, but significant reform looks more likely now than ever before.
Decriminalization bill to be introduced in Virginia
Over the last few months, the Virginia State Crime Commission has looked at the benefits of marijuana decriminalization in Virginia, and the majority leader of the Senate, Sen. Tommy Norment (R), expressed his intent to introduce a bill to decriminalize simple possession of small amounts of marijuana. While the details of this bill have not yet been revealed, this is an encouraging development, especially considering Ralph Northam’s pro-decriminalization position during his campaign. With the new make up of the House of Delegates and Northam as governor, it seems very likely that a decriminalization bill will be signed by the governor in 2018.
Let’s make sure not one more Virginian is arrested for possession of marijuana. Please subscribe to MPP’s free state alerts, and support MPP’s local and national reform efforts today!
Gov. McAuliffe signs two important reforms into law
On March 27, 2017, Virginia’s Gov. Terry McAuliffe signed into law SB 1091, finally ending the practice of automatically suspending a driver’s license for six months after receiving a first offense marijuana possession conviction. Once the law takes effect on July 1, the court will have discretion as to whether to impose this condition as a term of probation. Anyone receiving such a conviction will still be subject to other conditions under Virginia law, including substance abuse screening, drug testing, and community service. Minors will continue to be subject to the automatic license suspension.
One week before, the governor also signed SB 1027, permitting “pharmaceutical processors” to produce low-THC cannabis oil for patients suffering from intractable epilepsy. This extremely narrow law will eventually provide for in-state production and distribution of the oil, and patients will be able to enroll in a program with their doctors’ certifications. You can read more about the program here.
While these two enacted reforms are steps in the right direction, they are far short of the improvements Virginians need. A poll released earlier this year found nearly eight in 10 state residents support replacing marijuana criminal convictions with a fine, and 62% favored ending cannabis prohibition altogether. Please ask your lawmakers to show compassion for the seriously ill, including those with other serious conditions, such as multiple sclerosis, intractable pain, and PTSD. Medical marijuana is far less harmful and poses fewer negative side effects than most prescription drugs — especially painkillers — and patients often find it to be a more effective treatment. Tell your elected officials that the time for reform is now!
The Roanoke Times calls for medical marijuana
On March 5, 2017, shortly after the close of the 2017 legislative session, the editorial board of the Roanoke Times published an editorial calling for the state to adopt a medical marijuana program. Further, in April 2015, a Quinnipiac poll found that 86% of Virginia voters support the legalization of medical marijuana. It is clear that support for this critical issue exists statewide, it is time that lawmakers listen to the will of the people. Please click here to let your legislators know that this issue is important to you.
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.
To stay updated on the status of marijuana policy reform in Virginia, be sure to subscribe to MPP’s free legislative alert service.