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November 13, 2020

Va. seriously considering legalization of marijuana

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Virginia has been slowly loosening its stance on marijuana since 2017.
I think it’s pretty clear that the people expect this to happen eventually.
— Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria)
By Ned Oliver
Virginia Mercury

Members of the House of Delegates expect it to pass.

In the Senate, they give it “slightly better than 50-50 odds.”

And Gov. Ralph Northam’s office says he’s “certainly open to it.”

Proposals to legalize recreational marijuana in Virginia will get their first serious hearings when the General Assembly convenes in January and, at least for now, it looks like there’s a decent chance they could succeed.

“It’s high time we actually make this change and I think other people have seen that as well,” said Del. Mike Mullen (D-Newport News), who chairs the House’s criminal law subcommittee and says he believes there are enough votes in the chamber to end prohibition of the drug. “I can tell you I think it will pass.”

The movement in Virginia comes after voters in four states overwhelmingly approved referendums legalizing marijuana, bringing the total nationwide total to 15. If lawmakers in Virginia move forward, the state would become the first in the South to authorize recreational use of the drug.

Virginia has been slowly loosening its stance on marijuana for years, first allowing medical use of CBD in 2017, expanding that to a full-fledged medical marijuana program by 2019 and, earlier this year, passing legislation that reduced the penalty for people caught with small amounts of the drug to a $25 civil fine.

But to date, no proposals to fully legalize and regulate adult use of the drug have made it the floor of either chamber in the General Assembly despite rapidly shifting public opinion in favor of the measures.

The outcome was unsurprising when Republicans controlled the General Assembly, many of whom opposed efforts to expand access to the drug. But some Democrats eager to move past prohibition after winning majorities in the House and Senate last year were disappointed when their colleagues voted down their own legalization bills.

Democrats framed decriminalization — and now legalization — as an important step to end disparate enforcement of drug laws on Black Virginians, who have been prosecuted at significantly higher rates despite studies showing they use the drug at roughly the same rate as their White counterparts.

But Democratic leaders, including Mr. Northam, said last year that it would be irresponsible for the state to move straight to fully legalizing the drug without first studying how other states have approached the issue. To that end, lawmakers requested two studies reviewing potential regulatory models and tax schemes when they approved decriminalization in March.

Those studies are due this month — the first is scheduled to be presented Monday — and party leaders say they’re ready to give the issue serious consideration.

Mr. Northam’s office and leaders in the House and Senate all said that because the issue is entirely new for the state, they’ll be looking for broad guidance on how to set up and regulate the new industry from scratch. Outstanding questions include how licenses to grow and sell the plant will be distributed, what say local governments should have in the process and whether a new state agency should be created to govern the industry or an existing bureaucracy like the Alcoholic Beverage Control Authority should take on the duties.

Mr. Northam — a physician who helped raise the state’s smoking age to 21 and voiced concern at the beginning of the year about condoning drug use — remains interested in youth health and how those concerns will be addressed, said his chief of staff, Clark Mercer. But in the context of adult use, he said Northam understands the broader history of its prohibition in the country, which was largely sparked by anti-Mexican and anti-Black sentiment in the early 1900s and fears the drug was causing the two groups to “forget their place in the fabric of American society,” as CBS News put it in 2016.

“He is certainly open to it and we’re going to look at the reports when they come out and continue to dig into the details of how you go about regulating an industry,” Mr. Mercer said. “The door is not closed in our office on this issue.”

In the House, Majority Leader Charniele Herring (D-Alexandria) agreed with Mr. Mullin that a legalization bill could clear the chamber: “I think it has a good chance,” she said. However, she cautioned that members wouldn’t rush a bill through: “But I can’t say that it’s definitely going to happen if members don’t feel comfortable with the proper regulatory construct.”

She said one area she’ll be focused on is making sure the population most impacted by prohibition — Black Virginians — have an opportunity to participate in any new industry. Some states, for instance, have set aside a certain number of retail and production licenses for minority-owned businesses.

In the Senate, where Democrats hold a narrower 21-19 majority, the bigger question is whether the basic concept will be able to muster enough support to pass.

Senate Majority Leader Dick Saslaw (D-Fairfax) has said in the past that while he backed decriminalization, he wasn’t certain he would support legalization. In a phone call Thursday, he said he is open to the idea. “I’m willing to listen,” he said. “I want to hear what both sides have to say.”

He put the odds of passage at “slightly better than 50-50,” an assessment shared by Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria), who proposed the decriminalization legislation earlier this year and plans to carry a legalization bill in January with Sen. Jennifer McClellan (D-Richmond).

Sen. Creigh Deeds (D-Bath), who chairs the chamber’s criminal law subcommittee, said he’s withholding judgement until the studies are delivered, but hadn’t expected to take the issue back up again so soon after decriminalization. “I’m not opposed to the idea,” he said. “I just want to do it right.”

While Democrats make up the bulk of support, any votes on the issue are unlikely to fall strictly on party-lines, said Jenn Michelle Pedini, executive director of Virginia NORML, the state chapter of the National Organization for the Reform Marijuana Laws, which has led lobbying efforts on the bill and noted that about a dozen Republicans backed decriminalization.

Mr. Ebbin said that, whatever the outcome next year, it’s clear Virginia is on track to move forward sooner than later.

“I think it’s pretty clear that the people expect this to happen eventually,” he said.
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Cammie Rodgers · November 18, 2020 at 10:42 am
Savefauquier - I would put an age limit on it, just like alcohol and cigarettes, though we know that kids get alcohol even if they aren't old enough, there will be those buying and selling to underage kids still in our society. So there will still be that factor to consider.

Savefauquiercounty2019 · November 16, 2020 at 7:05 am
It is the only way to rid our communities of drug cartels. Legalize it all. Stop the crimes against Americans. Addictions that have been legalized include foods, alcohol, gambling, tobacco. Funds from the lottery go to schools. Maybe now teachers can get paid overtime for constantly being contacted in the evenings and weekends. Teachers be cohesive an demand overtime pay. If a teacher stays long hours because she can't get her work done, she either needs retraining or an assistant. Teachers don't ever criticize teachers who leave on time. Criticize yourself for not saying NO to the administrators who do not care about you or your family. They know women are not cohesive. Stick with the teachers and demand over time pay or the work waits til you are on the clock.
Cammie Rodgers · November 15, 2020 at 10:46 am
@Mark House - Don't forget there are wealthy people that don't pay taxes, so many loopholes, depreciations, losses. Look at Trump for one, he paid $750 in taxes because he is still riding on his loss of over $1 Billion dollars years ago. We need to plug those loopholes.
Goldyy · November 14, 2020 at 11:33 am
Your price also depends on the adds-on you choose. Your paper will hit the new level if you hire an expert from the USA, Canada, or the UK, for whom English is a native language but this option will add 30% to the price of your paper.
Mark House · November 14, 2020 at 11:04 am
P.S. I have no desire to smoke weed, it's not my thing, unless the day comes when I need something for pain, then I might revisit the idea.
Mark House · November 14, 2020 at 11:02 am
brandonj - I absolutely agree with you on cutting spending for frivolous items such as excessive pandering to the current POTUS about his golfing and trips to his properties, fuel for AF-1 does not come cheap. It has cost American taxpayers an estimated $350 Million to entertain him and protect his family for the last four years.

I think there is a lot more that could be cut from the Federal and State budgets.

How do you think our roads and bridges, infrastructure such as police, fire & rescue, and public schools, are funded? By the taxes most of us pay. Did you know that only 56% of the people in this country pay income taxes? The other 44% don't for various reasons, they don't make enough, they are elderly and living on SS, they are disabled, etc. The fact that they don't make enough money to even pay taxes should be a wake up call that there is a huge imbalance in the haves and have nots. Education and job opportunities are KEY to helping most of that 44%.

Legalizing marijuana would also take some power away from drug dealers and cartels, keep people out of jail for minor infractions, help people with terminal illnesses such as cancer find pain relief, and put money back into the system to combat drug abuse (the hard kind). Like Prohibition on alcohol in the past which didn't work but only drove people to sneak around, the door is open for pot, and there isn't any closing it now.
brandonj · November 13, 2020 at 1:23 pm
@Mark House has some logic. If you want to reduce debt you have to cut spending that leads to debt while having a functional economy. How does taxing consumption fit in?

States are now racing to legalize because they need something to fund their bureaucracies plain and simple.
Mark House · November 13, 2020 at 1:04 pm
This is piecemeal. State by State. Why not make it legal across the USA then more taxes can be collected to bring down our national debt, like alcohol and cigarette taxes?

AngryBob - The LAST 4 years almost drove me back to drinking, but after 18 years sober I can say it didn't. Alcohol doesn't solve anything for some of us.
badelectronics · November 13, 2020 at 12:59 pm
Poor AngryBob. I think the next 2 months or so will be the worst.
AngryBob · November 13, 2020 at 11:42 am
Do it.

I need something stronger than alcohol to make it through the next 4 years.
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