2016 Virginia General Assembly update

It’s 2016! A new Virginia General Assembly session is coming up this month, and is a new opportunity to make our voices heard and demand change in the State’s marijuana laws and end the war on pot!

Senator Adam Ebbin of Alexandria has resubmitted last year’s decriminalization legislation, SB686, for this year’s session, as SB104. We’ve covered SB686 extensively on this site, the two bills share the same goal of removing the criminal penalties for simple possession of less than an ounce of marijuana and make it a civil fine. Ebbin’s bills both place a limit on civil forfeiture for the sale or distribution of marijuana to quantities of more than one pound. SB104 appears to be more tightly focused than SB686, and has dropped language regarding personal use defenses for growing pot, as well changes to penalties for paraphernalia and possession by a prisoner. Sen. Ebbin appears to limiting the scope of the bill this year in the hopes that it will remove objections to some of the other, less critical portions in order to strengthen the core decriminalization effort.

In support of this bill, we are reopening our popular Change.org petition in support of SB686 and are editing it to update the new legislation. SB104 is similar enough in scope that we believe that those that supported SB686 should not have any issues voicing their support behind the new bill.

The challenge remains the same as last year. SB104, like its predecessor, has been placed before the Senate Committee for Courts of Justice, co-chaired by Senators Tommy Norment Jr. of Williamsburg and Mark Obenshain of Harrisonburg. Both Senators have staunchly refused to support pro-marijuana legislation and sided with other Republican members of the committee to leave SB686 dead in the sub-chamber, not allowing it to be voted on by the main Senate body. In fact the challenge may be even greater this year as Democratic Fairfax Senator Linda Puller did not run for re-election and it remains to be seen who will take her seat on the Committee. No matter who takes up the last spot, we should demand that this group of 14 people allow the bill to move forward and be voted on by the Senate as a whole!

Also worth mentioning is that Republican Senator Ryan McDougal, who is also a member of the Committee for Courts of Justice, has introduced a bill, SB22, to allow people to expunge certain charges and convictions from their records. The bill allows people convicted of marijuana possession and some alcohol-related charges before their 21st birthday to have them removed off of their record if 5 years have passed since they’ve completed the terms of sentencing and probation. This bill will allow young people who have gotten caught up in the criminal justice system for marijuana charges to clean their record and have a clean shot when filling out job applications. We here at the VMLP support SB22 and encourage others to voice their support, but we would also encourage Sen. McDougal to support other legislation such as SB104 to prevent charging individuals for simple marijuana possession in the first place.

We would like to remind everyone that Lobby Day is coming up the Thursday after next, Janurary 14, which is when our friends over at NORML encourage everyone to go meet with their elected representatives and push for marijuana reform. People ask when we’re going to see change in Virginia, and this is the single most important thing they can do. Legislators in this state seem to take a wait-and-see conservative approach when it comes to most things, including pot, and we need to meet with them face-to-face and confront their outdated and ill-informed attitudes with respect to cannabis. So please, register with NORML and make plans to travel to Richmond and meet with your representatives. Please, especially if your Senators are Norment, Obenshain, or any of the other Senators that voted against SB686 last year. Change will only come with our constant and unrelenting pressure.

Godspeed and Happy 2016!

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