Virginia legalizing marijuana anytime soon? Probably not, lawmakers say
This year, the Virginia General Assembly introduced at least a dozen marijuana-related bills. The Virginia State Crime Commission is also studying whether the commonwealth should decriminalize marijuana.
But even if a legalization framework was put in place, some legislators say they would not support legalizing pot for recreational uses.
“I do not support legalizing marijuana for recreational use,” Del. Randy Minchew (R-10th) said. “I don't believe it is, at this juncture, appropriate to allow for another recreational narcotic to enter the Virginia mainstream.”
Minchew said that, with a physician's prescription, he supports the use cannabis oil to be used for medical purposes to alleviate pain.
“When I hear about legislators in Washington and Colorado [legalizing] it because it helps them make some money, I think that's improper,” Minchew said. “I think allowing for a recreational use of a narcotic so you can tax it is not a legitimate public policy purpose.”
In Virginia the possession of even a small amount of pot can land you in jail. But in some states, including nearby Maryland, the possession of less than 10 grams of marijuana is only a civil crime.
In Washington, D.C., marijuana is legal for recreational and medical uses but banned from commercial sales.
State Del. John Bell (D-87th) said he does not support fully legalizing marijuana, especially given his son's previously publicized struggle with opioid addiction. But Bell said he is in favor of getting rid of harsh criminal penalties, and he also supports using weed for medical reasons.
“I don't ... not in Virginia,” Bell said when asked if he thought marijuana would be legalized in the commonwealth in the near future. “I don’t think that the sentiment is strong enough in the General Assembly to do that.”
Two prominent pot bills that passed the General Assembly this session included SB 1091, which amends Virginia’s mandatory driver’s suspension law so that it no longer applies to adults convicted of simple marijuana possession offenses, and SB 1027, which allows Virginia pharmacies to make and sell cannabidiol oil and THC-A oil to treat intractable epilepsy.
State Sen. Jill Vogel (R-27th) introduced a similar bill this session -- SB 1298 -- that would have also made cannabidiol oil available to those suffering from cancer, AIDS, Alzheimer’s, Crohn's disease and several other medical conditions. Vogel’s bill passed in the Senate but died in the House.
The Fauquier-based state senator, who represents a small portion of Loudoun, is more optimistic about pot reform. Vogel said she thinks it is likely the General Assembly will look into decriminalizing or taxing and reforming marijuana.
Although Vogel said she does not support fully decriminalizing marijuana, she thinks it is a mistake for the legislature to not at least take another look at the commonwealth's pot laws.
“I think we are making a huge mistake if we’re not taking a second look at our marijuana laws and if we’re, at a minimum, not prepared to expand our medical marijuana use in Virginia,” she said.
Jenn Michelle Pedini, the executive director of the Virginia chapter of marijuana reform advocacy group NORML, said although she thinks the state is on the path toward decriminalizing marijuana, the commonwealth is unlikely to legalize pot anytime soon.
Pedini noted that federal policy will have to shift if Virginia wants to get to a place of taxing and reforming the substance.
“In order for Virginia to move toward a tax and regulate model … it's going to require a shift in federal policy,” Pedini said. “Currently Virginia has ranked number two of all the states for securing federal funds. I'm sure Virginia would much prefer to be number one. We are never going to do anything that jeopardizes our ability to receive government money.”
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