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 email@example.com, 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.