Advocates of medical marijuana scored another small victory this week in Richmond.
A Senate committee voted to allow cancer patients to use an oil derived from the cannabis plant – a medication that can already be used, legally, in patients with epilepsy. Studies suggest cannabidiol may help to fight breast, colon, brain, lung and other cancers while reducing the side effects of conventional chemotherapy.
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!
The Virginia General Assembly continues its 2015 session, and here’s a rundown of what’s happened thus far:
SB 686, Sen. Adam Ebbin’s bill, which would have decriminalized possession of up to an ounce of marijuana, was passed by indefinitely by the Senate Committee for Courts and Justice, in spite of several recent polls that show a majority of Virginians support it.
The 9-5 vote was by party line, which Democratic Senators Puller, Lucas, Edwards, McEachin, and Saslaw voting in favor, and Republican Senators Reeves, Garrett, Stanley, Vogel, McDougle, Norment, Obenshain, Stuart, and Chafin opposing.
We worked very hard in support of this bill, gathering some 2800 supporters on our Change.org petition, but the Senators have refused to listen. We can only hope that they be held accountable this fall, as 2015 is an election year.
Now for the good news.
SB 1235 just passed the Senate today 37-1. This bill will allow the use of Cannabidiol oil and THC-A oil for the treatment of epilepsy. No word yet on who the one vote against was yet.
HB 1445 has passed through the House Committee for Courts of Justice and will be up for a vote before the full House. This bill will amend Virginia’s current medical marijuana laws,
allowing patients to possess pot with a doctors recommendation, and adding epilepsy to the list of allowed ailments along with cancer and glaucoma. [update 2/9/14: It looks like we missed this, but on 2/4 the House committee actually put forward a substitute that seems to match SB 1235. This bill would not allow for the use of marijuana, only cannabis oil, and would have no effect on the glaucoma and cancer patients. ]
HB 1605, Sen. Kenneth Plum’s bill which would make medical marijuana available for all ailments, is still in limbo in the House Committee for Courts and Justice. Hopes aren’t high for this bill, but we’ll continue to watch this one and update you accordingly.
Industrial hemp has cleared the House and Senate and will be sent to Gov. McAuliffe’s desk for signing. The bill clears the way for hemp cultivation in the state when the Federal government finally lifts the ban on hemp.
Last weekend the Virginia State Senate Committee on Education and Health convened a hearing on SB 1235, a bill from Alexandria’s Sen. David Mardsen, which would allow for the use of cannabidiol and THC-A oil for the treatment of epilepsy. Several families were on hand to present testimony at the hearing, including Lisa Smith, who’s daughter Haley actually had a seizure before the legislators, and Beth Collins, who had to leave the state with her daughter Jennifer to seek medical marijuana in Colorado. Mrs. Collins told the legislator that cannabis oil give her daughter a better quality of life than the other medications that are available to her, which have harsh side effects.
These hearings follow the news that the Epilepsy Foundation of Virginia supports SB 1235 and HB 1445, which we have previously covered here. An article from EFVA executive director Suzanne Bischoff appeared on the Augusta Free Press last week, advocating for changes to the Code of Virginia and steps by the State Health Department to help make this plant available to those that need it and to further research of marijuana’s beneficial health effects.
No, this is not a repeat post, this is an entirely new bill from the 36th District’s Kenneth Plum. Regular readers of this blog already know about the current medical marijuana law in Virginia, which requires a federally-prohibited prescription for the treatment of cancer and glaucoma, and is effectively null and void for all intents and purposes. Earlier this month, Del. Dave Albo introduced HB 1445 to change the prescription requirement to a ‘recommendation’, and added epilepsy to the list of allowed ailments. This new bill, HB 1605 from Del. Plum would also change the language of the bill to protect those acting with a medical recommendation, but would take the additional step of removing the restriction on allowed ailments and would open up medicinal use for virtually any ailment.
We have to say that we like this bill much better, and hope that with Virginia voters overwhelming support of medical marijuana, this bill can gain passage through the General Assembly during the new session which started today.
Thanks to everyone for your support thus far. Our petition has under 250 supporters to go for us to reach our goal!
If you can make it to Richmond next Friday, the 16th of January, please consider coming to Richmond with us and our friends at VANORML for Lobby Day 2015. We will be meeting with our State Representatives to help show our support for marijuana decriminalization, medicinal use, and hemp farming. Please visit the Lobby Day page and register if you can make it.
In other news, VA NORML have raised over $900 to put up a pro-decriminalization billboard up adjacent to Route 360 in Richmond
Delegate Kaye Korys is one of the patrons of SB 686, and she’s written up a bit on the Falls Church News-Press as to why she’s supporting the bill.
Virginia isn’t the only state considering marijuana legislation in 2015, we’ve put together a list of news and opinion articles from around the country for you:
The Marijuana Policy Project has posted news about a recent Public Policy Polling Survey of 884 registered Virginia voters conducted last week that shows majority support for the changes being proposed in the upcoming General Assembly session. The poll shows that 3 out of 5 voters support removing criminal penalties for marijuana possession like Sen. Adam Ebbin’s SB 686 advocates. The poll also shows overwhelming support for changes to the medical marijuana statues that Del. Dave Albo’s HB 1445 aims to make. The poll also shows slight support for regulating cannabis like alcohol is.
The full poll can be found here: http://www.mpp.org/states/virginia/VirginiaResults.pdf
We’ve recently written about Virginia’s existing medical marijuana law, and how it is effectively null as it requires a prescription from a doctor, which is not allowed under the Federal Schedule 1 classification that pot is now under. Delegate Dave Albo of Springfield is trying to change this. His bill, HB 1445, changes the law so that it is valid with a recommendation from a doctor. The current law applies only to the treatment of cancer and glaucoma; Del. Albo’s bill also adds epilepsy to the list of allowed ailments.
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.
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.
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.
Next meeting open for public comment is at 7PM on January 13th at City Hall, 810 Union Street, 11th Floor.
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 firstname.lastname@example.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.