Supporting Arguments

Little did we know when we started this project how much of our time would be spent working on it. Keeping up with the news and all of our efforts on social media has been quite the time sink, yet we are confident that things will pay off in the end. Our petition is nearing 1900 supporters and Lobby Day is fast approaching, so we will keep up the fight into 2015 and make sure that Virginia moves forward with decriminalization.


 

Here are a few  of decriminalization support articles that I wanted to share with you today. Each of these articles is well written and brings up great points that need to be brought up when dealing with opposing viewpoints.

In the Richmond Times-Dispatch, guest writer Robert Sharpe of the Common Sense for Drug Policy goes all the  way back to the passage of the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937 and talks specifically to the waste of “public safety resources at a time when the General Assembly is grappling with a budget shortfall. ”

Times-Dispatch opinion writer A. Bart Hinkle has an article on the Bristol Herald Courier’s TriCities.com arguing that Virginia should sell off it’s monopoly alcohol sales in the state, and make up for the lost profits by legalizing weed.  Hinkle has been proposing a change in the marijuana for years now, arguing about the failure of prohibition in 2011 and advocating for full legalization last year as well. We’ve reached out to Mr. Hinkle to see if he would consider writing more, and will let you know if we see anything else from him.

One of the arguments that keeps getting bandied about by legalization opponents is that legalizing marijuana will lead to a rush of underage drug use. This is just not the case, as Reason’s Jacob Sullum notes that teen pot use has been falling since California enacted medical marijuana laws in 1996. Marijuana use among 8 -12 graders from 1996 to 2014

Mr. Sullum’s article feed is well worth watching for articles dealing with drug laws across the country.

Andrew Jenner gets into the data of Harrisonburg marijuana arrests on the Old South High blog.  Jenner shows that misdemeanor possession charges are at a 5 year high, a number that would disappear if SB 686 is made law. This is an interesting bit of analysis that should be used as a template for how decriminalization can be approached at the local level.

Open Letter for the Cities of Norfolk and Virginia Beach

What a crazy week it has been. Our previous article on marijuana decriminalization in Virginia must have struck a nerve, as our Change.org petition gained over a thousand supporters within 24 hours of publishing! Thanks everyone for your support thus far. While having the voice of the many is powerful and important, having the voice of the powerful and important is even more instrumental in enacting change at the higher levels of government. That is why we are here today to ask for your support in petitioning the city leaders of Norfolk and Virginia Beach, that they may in turn help to influence their respective State Senators and Delegates to pass SB 686 and stop prosecuting Virginia citizens for the possession of marijuana.

To Mayors Paul D. Fraim and William D. Sessions; Vice Mayors Louis R. Jones and Angela Williams; and other members of the City Councils of the cities of Norfolk and Virginia Beach,

In 2012, over 20,000 Virginians were arrested for the simple possession of marijuana. Today, a bill awaiting consideration in this January’s upcoming General Assembly session aims to decriminalize that act, and we are calling on you today as citizens of the Commonwealth of Virginia and of your great cities, to ask that the Mayors and City Council members take action in support of this bill, and help to end this injustice.
Alexandria State Senator Adam Ebbin has submitted Senate Bill 686, which would decriminalize simple possession of marijuana. Currently, violators face criminal conviction with a $500 fine and up to 30 days in jail. The proposed bill would reduce this to a civil fine of $100.

We request that the Councils submit a resolution in favor of SB686, acknowledging that Virginia’s current prohibition is a failed policy which does more harm than good. Marijuana arrests disproportionally affects African Americans families and communities, incarcerates non-violent offenders, causes students to lose access to financial aid, and has less effect on drug abuse rates than education and treatment programs do. Over half of the States in the Union currently allow some form of medicinal or recreational cannabis, including Maryland, North Carolina, and Washington DC, and Virginia voters overwhelmingly approve medicinal marijuana by a margin of 7 to 1.

There is also the hypocrisy of the State spending between $67 to 125 million annual in marijuana prohibition enforcement on one hand, while on the other, in 2013, taking in $134 million in profits through the sale of alcohol in its numerous ABC stores. Alcohol, a drug which contributes to accidental injury and death, is often abused, and has been proven to cause long term health issues and negative societal effects, while it continues to be sold throughout, and by, the Commonwealth, and advertised on television and in print. Pot, like alcohol, is enjoyed responsibly by a majority of its users, and it is past time to stop prosecuting marijuana consumers for an act that is no more harmful than enjoying few sips out of a bottle purchased from your local neighborhood ABC store.

We also ask the Councils to encourage their State Senators, Kenny Alexander, John Cosgrove, Lynwood Lewis, Jeff McWaters, and Frank Wagner, to co-sponsor SB686, that it might gain a recommendation from the Senate Courts of Justice committee, through which SB 686 must pass before it can be recommended to the full Senate floor for debate and an up or down vote, which this measure so justly deserves.

In addition, we also ask that the Councils direct the Norfolk and Virginia Beach Police Departments and City Attorney’s Offices to cease the arrest and prosecution of individuals in possession of an ounce or less of marijuana, and that those currently owing fines, jail time, or other penalties for said offense have their punishments reduced as described in SB 686.

While we will be more than grateful for all of the Facebook likes and Twitter mentions that we hope will spread on social media, it is important that you, Dear Reader, take direct action and contact your elected officials. Please call your City Council members and tell them that you support marijuana decriminalization and ask them to take action on this important issue. It is likely that they are not aware of Senator Ebbin’s bill and they must hear that their constituents support this and that they be called to take a position in favor of a rational marijuana policy in Virginia. Send them this message and make sure that they take action at their next meeting to forward this call. Each city only plans on meeting one more time before the General Assembly session starts, so it is imperative that you reach out to them beforehand, and make plans to attend and speak in support of decriminalization at these meetings. In addition, we would recommend that individuals reach out to their local radio, newspaper, and television editorial outlets to advocate on their behalf on this issue.

Thank you.


Norfolk City Council Member Contact Information

Norfolk Mayor Paul D. Fraim
Norfolk Mayor Paul D. Fraim

Next meeting open for public comment is at 7PM on January 13th at City Hall, 810 Union Street, 11th Floor.

Virginia Beach Council Member Contact Information

Virginia Beach City Council
Virginia Beach’s City Council

Next Council meeting open for public comment is at 6PM on January 6, at City Council Chambers, 2401 Courthouse Dr, Building 1, 2nd Floor.


Individuals who wish to assist or would like assistance coordinating on this campaign may contact us via email at vmlp@vmlp.org, through our web site at http://vmlp.org, on Twitter @VMLPorg, or at https://www.facebook.com/virginiaLegalization. Individuals or other organizations who wish to republish our letter or use it as a template for efforts in other localities may do so freely and without attribution, we just ask that you contact us if you do.

 

 

Weekly news update

It’s been an interesting week. In addition to publishing an article over at AltDaily, Change.org also featured our petition and our supporters skyrocketed over a thousand people in less than 3 days!  We’ve got just about a month to reach our goal of 2,500 supporters, so please sign and share!


Adam Ebbin on was on the John Fredericks Show last week for an interview about SB 686.


From the Department of Mixed Messages comes news from Washington. On Thursday Congress passed the so-called ‘cromnibus’ bill, which will fund the Federal Government through next October. A few of the provisions attached to the bill are worth mentioning. An amendment by Maryland Representative Andy Harris would prevent the District of Columbia from enacting Initiative 71, which legalized home cultivation and possession of small amounts of pot. While it may seem a victory for Harris and the anti-legalization crowd,  the incoming mayor-elect of DC has said that she will allow marijuana to be completely unregulated if Congress prevents Washington from enacting Intiative 71.

While the Cromnibus’s  DC rider has been making the most press, another more important provision will also be going into effect, one which will prevent law enforcement from using federal funds to prosecute medical marijuana patients or legal dispensaries in states in which it is legal. This prohibition on federal enforcement will have a huge effect on the Department of Justice, who’s outgoing Director Eric Holder has recently expressed his willingness for reform.

The DOJ has also recently requested that the FDA consider rescheduling pot from its current Schedule 1 status, which, if enacted, would immediately allow limited medical marijuana in Virgina. On top of that, they have also instructed U.S attorneys not to prosecute Native American tribes from growing or selling marijuana on reservations. This will probably be more important in states with legalization measures in place, and probably won’t affect Virginia’s Pamunkey Tribe in Prince William County. [edit: Twitter user Cleve_N_Twain pointed out that this applies even in states that prohibit pot. /HT]


Why You Should Support Marijuana Decriminalization in Virginia

[This article was cross-posted from AltDaily.com. Big Thanks to Jesse Scaccia for giving us the chance to stand on their soapbox!]

MARIJUANA DECRIMINALIZATION IN VIRGINIA: THE BACKSTORY, DETAILS, & WHY–AND HOW–YOU SHOULD SUPPORT IT

The Commonwealth of Virginia’s legislative body, the General Assembly, will be meeting this coming January for its 2015 lawmaking session. State Senator Adam Ebbin, a democrat from Alexandria, has introduced SB 686, a bill that would decriminalize possession of marijuana. We are writing today to persuade you, dear reader, to show your support for this bill by signing our Change.org petition in favor of SB 686,  targeted at the state representatives who will be deciding the fate of this bill, namely Senators Thomas K Norment, Jr., Mark Obenshain and the other members of the Senate Courts of Justice committee.

Unbeknownst to most people, Virginia actually has a medical marijuana law on the books. The statute, Code of Virginia § 18.2-251.1, makes provisions for the use of marijuana for medicinal reasons, specifically, by prescription for the treatment of cancer of glaucoma. The catch, and the reason that the law remains unknown, is that the ability of physicians to prescribe the drug is prohibited by the Federal classification of marijuana as a Schedule 1 substance, which by definition has no medicinal use. By comparison, states that have passed medical marijuana laws in recent years have used the word ‘recommend’ instead of ‘prescribe’ in their statues.

This classification did not dissuade Gloucester Delegate Harvey B. Morgan from proposing changes in 2010 that would have removed the stipulations on cancer and glaucoma diagnoses, and would have opened the door for medicinal cannabis use should it be rescheduled. A 2012 bill by Alexandria’s Delegate David Englin aimed to do just that; HJ 139 requested the Governor petition the DEA to reschedule marijuana to Schedule II. In 2010 and 2011, Delegate Morgan also introduced decriminalization measures. In all four cases, bills were passed by, or tabled, in subcommittee, and never made it to the House of Delegate floor to be voted on by the members at large.

While many are advocating full legalization, the bill before the Senate this coming year is only focused on decriminalization, so it is important to know exactly what the proposed legislation will do. Senate Bill 686 decriminalizes possession, changing the fine from $500 criminal fine to a$100 civil one that will be paid to the State’s Literary Fund, and eliminates the 30-day jail sentence. It reduces penalties for distribution, notably the 5 year minimum sentence for 5 pounds or more. It “creates the assumption” that someone growing six plants or less does so for personal reasons. If passed, substance abuse programs and suspended sentences will only apply to people convicted of criminal violations or civil ones by a minor. It changes the laws regarding paraphernalia, and also creates limits on civil forfeiture to distribution of a pound or more. Lastly, the bill decreases the penalties for possession by a prisoner; it is still a felony.

Sen Ebbin’s bill mirrors the language of Delegate Morgan’s failed 2010 and 2011 bills and also faces an uphill battle in Virginia, which has traditionally been very conservative when it comes to any type of legislative change. Why then, should we expect such a legislative measure to succeed when past measures have been met with such unequivocal defeat? First, national momentum in drug policy changes have been sweeping the nation for the past several years, with Colorado and Washington states passing full legalization measures, and now Washington DC voters have passed Initiative 71 to effectively decriminalize marijuana. Almost half of the states have legalized marijuana in some form or another, and there is even a bill in Congress that would allow the Department of Veterans Affairs to recommend medicinal cannabis to their patients. Public opinion has been shifting against marijuana prohibition as well, as Virginia voters overwhelmingly approve medical marijuana 6-1, according to recent polls.

Secondly, the recent success in Colorado has given pause to skeptics, noting that rather than turning Colorado into a lawless hellscape as critics has warned, revenue from legalized marijuana was more than twice what was originally anticipated, for a total of $37.1 million from recreational pot as of November. This money is being distributed to schools and infrastructure projects, as well as substances abuse education and prevention programs, which are 7 times more effective at curbing drug use than law enforcement measures. While the United States continues to spend between $10 and 20 billion dollars annually on enforcement, law enforcement organizations and officials are preparing for change, with the DEA requesting that the FDA reconsider marijuana’s Schedule I status, and Albemarle County Chief of Police Steve Sellers working with his Colorado counterparts to prepare for a possible change in Virginia. And just this week, the editorial board of the Virginian Pilot newspaper came out in support of SB 686.

Third, while some groups continue to fight against policy changes in the name of protecting our children, it is apparent that the current criminal prohibition of marijuana is doing more harm than it aims to prevent. Parallels to early 20th century alcohol prohibition are prevalent, which did little to stop consumption while driving sales to the black market, where it profited organized criminal organizations. And while alcohol continues to enjoy most-favored-drug status in the United States, it continues to cause more long-term health problems and accidental deaths than have been seen among marijuana consumers. It seems ridiculous that I can enjoy a glass of wine while writing this article when a small amount of marijuana can saddle one with a fine, jail time, or in some cases, the loss of an automobile or even a house. Today, a marijuana conviction can even cause college students to lose access to Federal student aid. In 2012, over 20 thousand people were arrested for possession of marijuana. Estimates for prohibition enforcement in Virginia range from $67 to 125 million a year. By contrast, the Virginia Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control made $134 million in profit off of $758 million in sales in 2013. Is this not remarkable?

At this point, the full legalization of marijuana for commercial use in the Commonwealth of Virginia is not on the table. Senator Ebbin’s bill only deals with decriminalization, a measure that will clear up a majority of the law enforcement and taxpayer resources that are wasted each year, and should help reduce the biased enforcement of the law that the ACLU and NAACP are fighting against. SB 686 is a good first step for Virginia toward a rational drug policy that will alleviate the most problematic aspects of our current system, while allowing us to discuss and craft sensible policy for the future.

It is for these reasons that we at the Virginia Marijuana Legalization Project have created our petition in support of SB 686. We realize that these first steps are important, and do not want to see Virginia continue to lag behind the rest of the nation with regards to this policy. The bill offers solutions for both the culturally liberal, fiscally conservative, and libertarian minded citizen. We acknowledge that previous decriminalization efforts in the House of Delegates have been passed over by the Courts of Justice committee in the past, so our petition is directed squarely at its Senate members, with the sole purpose of convincing them to refer it to the Senate at large where it can be voted on by the full membership. Ideally, the measure would be passed by the Senate and would then face passage in the House of Delegates, and if successful there would go to Governor McAuliffe’s desk to be signed into law. Our goal is to collect 2500 supporters on our petition, and deliver this list to the Senate committee when they meet this January. Should the measure successfully escape its predecessor’s fate, we will retarget our efforts to the greater Senate and Delegate members as appropriate.

If you would like to help, please do so by signing our petition and sharing it with other Virginia citizens that you know. Contact your State Senator or Delegate, especially if that are a member of the Courts of Justice committee, and voice your support and let them know you are a constituent!

Visit our site at VMLP.org and sign up for our mailing list, and find, follow, like and share us on Facebook and Twitter as well. You should also support NORML (National Organization for the Repeal of Marijuana Laws) and its many Virginia chapters, and also consider writing to your local media or speaking before your local city or county board or council in support of SB 686. Above all, SPREAD THE WORD, and help move Virginia forward toward a rational marijuana policy in 2015.

 

Current Virginia Medical Marijuana laws

We’ve talked about Virginia’s medical marijuana laws before, however we wanted to post again to clear up some confusion since information on the subject isn’t well known.

Currently, Code of Virginia § 18.2-251.1 states, in part:

No person shall be prosecuted under § 18.2-250 or § 18.2-250.1 for the possession of marijuana or tetrahydrocannabinol when that possession occurs pursuant to a valid prescription issued by a medical doctor in the course of his professional practice for treatment of cancer or glaucoma.

This law was passed in 1979. Why then, aren’t there medical dispensaries all throughout the state? It’s because the statute uses the term “valid prescription” and the current Schedule 1 status of marijuana prevents doctors from prescribing it, making the law void. For this reason, most medical marijuana statues use the word “recommend” instead.

It is worth noting that this law has survived challenges in 1998 and 2014, but until the current wording is changed or marijuana’s status as a Schedule 1 drug is changed, this law will have no effect.

While there are no bills on the currently on the schedule for the 2015 session that would change any of this, Senator Adam Ebbin’s SB 686 would decriminalize possession of an once or less, and is our best hope for advancing legalization this year in Virginia. Please sign our Change.org petition to help make sure this bill makes it out of committee and to the Senate floor for a full vote by all Senate members.

Change.org Petition for SB 686

When the General Assembly Senate Courts of Justice committee convenes next January, one of the bills that it will be hearing is SB 686, which will decriminalize the possession of an ounce or less of marijuana.  While we are not yet sure whether the committee will recommend the bill to the full Senate or will pass it by, we have created a petition on Change.org so that you can add your name and let committee co-chairs Mark Obenshain and William Stanley know that you want this bill to go to the full Senate floor to be voted on by all Senate members.


News of Sen. Ebbin’s bill has been getting more and more coverage in the media. We would like to specifically point out this editorial by AltDaily’s Jesse Scaccia, which lays out the argument much better than we have thus far:

Last year, some 23,000+ Virginia residents had their life narratives forever altered for the worse due to marijuana arrests. This is bad for our society. It is a bad use of limited law enforcement dollars. It is simply bad policy, and it’s time for it to change.

Time saved from arresting non-violent marijuana smokers would be put toward catching and convicting our society’s true evil doers: rapists, gang members, pedophiles, and others doing objective damage to the health and well-being of the Commonwealth.

Marijuana is less likely to lead to violence and crime than alcohol. It is less addictive than prescription pain pills. As anyone who has listened to the Beatles or Bob Marley knows, marijuana is a plant that induces people to be peaceful, dreamy, loving, and goofy. It’s time for the hypocrisy to end. Use your voice to support this bill. This is our Virginia. It is whatever we want it to be.