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!]


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.

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.