Weekly short links

We hope everyone had a good Thanksgiving with their friends and family. Here’s our weekly roundup of the news.


Washington DC ABC affiliate WJLA has aired a segment on SB 686, quoting George Madison associate government professor Jeremy Mayer, who said “Virginia is still at heart a purple state, it is a state with a liberal, democratic governor, a conservative legislature. You are going to need a different Richmond to decriminalize marijuana.”


Additional coverage on SB 686 from Arlington’s ARLnow.com, which also notes that the bill faces long odds with Republican control of both the House of Delegates and the Senate.


A bi-partisan group of House Representatives are sponsoring a bill to allow the Department of Veterans Affairs to discuss and recommend medical marijuana to their patients. The VA currently prohibits their physicians from recommending medical marijuana to their patients for the treatment of chronic pain or PTSD. The proposed bill, the “Veterans Equal Access Act,” was introduced by Oregon’s Earl Blumenauer, California’s Dana Rohrabacher, and 10 others.


While not directly relevant to Virginia’s efforts, we would like to give kudos to Georgia State Senator Curt Thompson, who has introduced two pieces of legislation to legalize medicinal and recreation marijuana in the state.


Vice.com has a write up on what’s next for marijuana proponents in Washington DC following the success of Initiative 71 this fall. The DC Council is looking for ways to start taxing and regulating the sale of pot, while at the same time Maryland Congressman Andy Harris will “consider using all resources available to a member of Congress to stop this action.” While Congress has the ability to overrule any law passed in DC, it seems unlikely that any such efforts will be successful.


The International Business Times looks at how marijuana farms, both legal and illegal, negatively impact the environment.


US Senator Ron Johnson, who will be in charge of the committee reviewing Washington DC’s Initiative 71, says that while he opposes marijuana legalization, he strongly supports state’s rights and would like to hold hearings over the new bill.


Richmond-Times dispatch reporter Bart Hinkle discusses ending Virginia’s monopoly on alcohol sales and making up for it with money from marijuana legalization.


A Williamsburg man is facing grand jury charges after allegedly accepting 14 pounds of weed in the mail.


RedAlertPolitics.com notes that marijuana arrests have declined over the past 5 years, but are still twice as high as they were in the 1990s.

 

Catching up on old news

There are a few news items from the past year or so that I’ve found since starting this site, so in the interest of clearing my browser tabs out I’m going to post them so that we can move on to more current events.


In August, Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe reiterated his support for medical marijuana, adding that he is not ready for full legalization and that any efforts would have to go through the General Assembly. The governor stated that the issue is not a priority that he will push for and that supporters need to talk to their state senator or delegate about getting anything done.

Let’s see him up on that.


A March poll by Connecticut’s Qunnipiac University finds overwhelming support by Virginia voters for medical marijuana, finding 83% support it. Respondents were split 46-48% in favor/in opposition of recreational marijuana. The poll shows broad support for medicial use by both Republicans and Democrats and the 18-29 and over 65 year old age groups. Approval of recreational is higher among Democrats and 18-29 year olds, and is opposed by a majority of Republicans and those over 65. Interestingly, only 39 percent of those polled admitted to having smoked marijuana.


Charlottesville’s local NBC29 WVIR affiliate aired this segment earlier this month about NORML’s efforts in the state. It has some choice quotes from Albemarle County Chief of Police Steve Sellers, who says that “this is the most effort that I’ve seen towards legalization or decriminalization of marijuana in my [32 year] career.” Of course Sellers is concerned about things from an enforcement perspective, and is glad to have the luxury of getting in front of things and preparing for things in a way that wasn’t achieved in Colorado.

We also found information about the Charlottesville city council that deserves mention. In early May 2012, legal advocacy group The Rutherford Institute sent a six page letter to city council members asking the city to ‘take the lead on ending the drug war’ and de-prioritize marijuana possession. Later that month, the council debated a resolution to that same effect, while eventually passing a final resolution to “ask state lawmakers to rethink marijuana laws” by a 3-2 vote. A year later an ordinance that would have taken jail time off the table for first time possession offenders failed 3-2.


An earlier post here mentioned Delegate Bob Marshall’s HB 684 as pending for the 2015 General Assembly session, which would remove language from the Code of Virginia which allows marijuana by prescription. It’s worth mentioning that since marijuana is a Schedule I drug, physicians are prohibited from prescribing the drug, and can only ‘recommend’ it. The bill is indeed dead, but I bring this up because of this article in the Charlottesville paper The Cavalier Daily, which has some great quotes from Del. Marshall, which I’ve consolidated.

“Drugs should only be taken if you’re sick[…] Folks … will lose their political liberties because they won’t have the mental moxie to fight the tyranny that is ever growing in our society right now[…] If you think smoking dope is going to give you the mental capacity you need to fight off the police state, think again[…] Look, you’ve got enough problems with kids drinking booze and falling off balconies.”

“Drugs should only be taken if you’re sick”, unless his bill passed.


The Associated Press reports that the Virginia Department of Forensic Science will no longer routinely process marijuana in misdemeanor cases. This is due to the backlog in processing controlled substances labs.


Outgoing US attorney general Eric Holder is ‘cautiously optimistic‘ about Washington and Colorado’s legalization efforts, says the DoJ will sue them if they don’t keep things in line.

Legitimate Use Of Medicinal Marijuana Act

H. R. 4498 To provide for the legitimate use of medicinal marijuana in accordance with the laws of the various States.

While we realize that this bill is dead, we wanted to post about it as a measure of support for US House of Representatives member Morgan Griffith, who introduced this bill to move marijuana from Schedule I to Schedule II and allow doctors to prescribe in states where medical marijuana is legal, such as Virginia.

Rep. Griffith was re-elected this November with 72% of the vote. We should encourage him to put HR 4498 back on the docket for this upcoming House session.

Va. Rep. Griffith introduces federal ‘Legitimate Use of Medicinal Marijuana Act’ (WaPo)

Roanoke Marijuana Summit

Avon Colorado police chief visits Roanoke, talks about legalization of recreational marijuana

The Prevention Council of Roanoke County and Roanoke Area Youth Substance Abuse Coalition (RAYSAC), held a “Marijuana Summit” earlier this November to discuss legalized recreational marijuana. Avon Colorado Police Chief Robert Ticer was one of the keynote speakers and spoke negatively of the recent changes in Colorado.

“This is not a good thing[…] This is not a good thing for our community, this is not a good thing for our kids[…] This came about so fast in Colorado. We didn’t have an opportunity to look at it like the other 48 other states are having that opportunity right now[…]  There is crime associated with it[…] There’s impaired driving associated with it.”

Also speaking at the summit were addiction specialist Professor Warren Bickel and Professor Read Montauge, who specializes in human cognition, both from the Virginia Tech Carilon Research Institute, as well as motivational speaker Monte Stiles, who spent 28 years as a federal drug prosecutor.

The article also notes that pro-legalization supporters showed up to the event but were asked to leave.

Roanoke County Police Chief Howard Hall was also quoted: “Marijuana is a substance that impairs, so it is going to impair people’s ability to drive safely[…] When it’s commonly available like alcohol is then you’re going to see more people driving under the influence.”

We’ve reached out to RAYSAC director Kathy Sullivan for any additional information on this summit and will update you if we get a response.

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Recent History of Virginia Marijuana Legislation

We covered the upcoming Virginia General Assembly session previously, today we’ve dug through Virginia’s Legislative Information System to put together a selected list of proposed changes to the State’s marijuana laws over the past few years.

2010

Gloucester Delegate Harvey B. Morgan, a pharmacist for more than 3 decades, introduced HB 1134, which aimed to decriminalize the simple possession of marijuana, replacing criminal fines with civil ones and removing mandatory sentences for distribution. This bill never made it out of the Criminal subcommitte of the Committee for Courts of Justice, where it was passed by indefinitely.

Del. Morgan also introduced HB 1136, which provided for the prescription of marijuana for medicinal purposes. Prescriptions are currently allowed for cancer and glaucoma; this legislation would have removed those restrictions. This bill was tabled in the Courts of Justice’s Criminal subcommittee.

The Washington Post’s Rosalind Helderman wrote a short article about Del. Morgan and the two bills and the general sense of amusement that surrounded the matter.

2011

Del. Morgan continued to push for decriminalization  in the General Assembly the following year with HB 1443, which was similar to HB 1134. RawStory covered it, pointing to an article in Charlottesville’s The Daily Progress, which noted that Virginia police made 19,764 arrests for marijuana offenses in 2009, and makes some great arguments for marijuana law reform. HB 1443 died the same death as HB 1134, passed by indefinitely in the Criminal subcommitte of the Committee for Courts of Justice.

Del. Morgan did not run for re-election in 2011, and retired from the General Assembly after representing Gloucester for 32 years.

2011 also saw a glut of bills regarding the prohibition of synthetic marijuana, including passage of SB 745, which banned synthetic cannabinoids and bath salts.  The bill’s sponsor, then Senator Mark R. Herring, is now the Attorney General of Virginia.

2012

Alexandria’s Del. David L. Englin introduced HJ 139, requesting the Governor to petition the DEA for rescheduling of marijuana from Schedule I to Schedule II. The resolution was referred to the Committee on Rules and tabled by voice vote

Englin also introduced HJ 140, asking for a study on the impact to the State of legalization and sale of marijuana, to include selling it through Virginia’s ABC stores. This legislation was assigned to the Committee on Rules sub committee for Studies, and was also tabled.

Del. Elgin resigned from his seat in August of 2012 after admitting to an extramarital affair.

2013

While the LIS has several hundred references to marijuana, none of bills referenced appear to deal with it directly.

So what does all this mean for SB 686 in this upcoming session? My take is that it likely has a slim chance of making it out of committee. For our next post we will be taking a closer look at the current and past members of the Senate Courts of Justice committee to see if we can gather any information about them and how they may act this time around. Hopefully we we be able to identify those members that will be most likely to be swayed by public action, which we can use to coordinate with other advocates.

Upcoming General Assembly Session

The Virginia General Assembly will be starting their 2015 legislative session the second week in January.  This will be a short 30 day session with which they have to deal with all legislative matters, and there are a number of bills that have been introduced that deal with drug policy that we should mention.

SB 686 Marijuana; decriminalization of simple marijuana possession.

This bill, introduced by State Senator Adam Ebbin of the 30th District, would remove the 30 day jail sentence for simple marijuana possession and reduce the fine from $500 to $100. It also allows for defense from distribution charges by presuming that someone who cultivates up to six plants does so for personal reasons, and also removes the civil forfeiture penalties from quantities under a pound. This legislation has been referred to the Committee for the Courts of Justice.

HB 684 Marijuana; prescribing, dispensing, etc., as medicine.

Most people do not realize that Virginia already has medical marijuana laws on the books. The Code of Virginia 18.2-251.1 allows for the possession of marijuana by prescription for the treatment of cancer or glaucoma. This bill from Delegate Bob Marshall of the 13th District, would repeal this provision as well as add additional limits on the ability of physicians to prescribe other controlled substances. This legislation was introduced in the 2014 session but never made it out of the Committee for the Courts of Justice. It does appear that it is still active, and may have a chance to come up during the new session.   [edit: The bill was passed by and would need to be reintroduced to be considered for the 2015 session.]

HB 1277 Industrial hemp production and manufacturing.

This bill from Delegate Joeseph Yost of the 12th District, would allow for the cultivation of industrial hemp.

The full list of pending legislation is available on this page at the Marijuana Policy Project site.

The VMLP’s focus for this upcoming Assembly session will be on SB686, as it will have the most impact Virginia drug policy. Our focus will be to pressure members of the Senate Courts of Justice committee to pass the bill up to the larger assembly for vote. We will be reaching out to the members of the committee to gather their positions on the bill and help support Senator Ebbin with his efforts. Should the bill pass committee, we will then have the task of helping push this legislation through the State Senate, the House of Delegates, and then on to Governor McAuliffe.

My next post will be on the Committee and their individual members; in the meantime please show your support for Senator Ebbin by sending him an email and letting him know that you stand behind SB 686.

Announcing the Virginia Marijuana Legalization Project

Hello fellow Virginians,

Welcome to the home of the Virginia Marijuana Legalization Project. I have created this site to help coordinate with like minded citizens of the Commonwealth to help us bring about change in our great state. Change has been sweeping across our nation for the past few years, and while I feel that legalization is inevitable, I am no longer content to sit by and wait passively for this to happen. I am creating this organization today to actively call on our elected representatives to support us in this endeavor

The Virginia state assembly will be reconvening in January, and there are already several measures on the ballot that affect drug policy in Virginia. Our aim is to mobilize Virgina’s citizens to pressure their representatives to support  bills which will allow Virginians the freedom to use Marijuana for medical or recreational purposes, and to block any legislation that will prohibit the use of marijuana or increase penalties for its possession.

I am not advocating full scale commercialization of Marijuana at this time. There are too many factors  which makes commercialization problematic, most notably the hypocrisy of allowing corporations to profit from the sale of pot after years of prohibition has ruined the lives of so many minority youths and community. We are instead looking toward the recent legislation passed in Washington DC as a model for our goals, namely the decriminalization of the possession and cultivation of marijuana for personal use.  I feel that this is a good starting point for us to aim for, with the understanding that additional measures will come later.

I hope that you will join me. We are looking for anyone that can help us, so please email vmlp@vmlp.org if you would like to contribute.  We will need help writing articles, contacting elected officials, and driving our social and traditional media campaigns, so please contact us if you would like to help. We have less than 60 days before the upcoming General Assembly meeting convenes, so we have to act fast to make sure that we have an impact in 2015.

Thank you,
Michael Wade