Tag Archives: General Assembly

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!

Medical Marijuana Bills Gain Support from Epilepsy Advocates

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.

Poll: Majority of Virginia Voters Support Marijuana Decriminalization

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

New Medicial Marijuana Bill Introduced in House of Delegates

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.

 Virginia Delegate Albo proposes bill to allow medical marijuana to threat a third syndrome

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.

 

 

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.

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.