By Daniel Rouleau, Communications Director of Virginia NORML
In the first quarter of 2017, the reform efforts of Virginia NORML laid a framework for exciting changes in the Commonwealth’s cannabis policies. As spring blooms, conversations are blossoming in municipalities across the state challenging the status quo of criminally prosecuting misdemeanor possession in favor of civil fines. And we’re leading the charge not only at home in Virginia, but in Congress as well. As Virginia NORML continues its mission to reform marijuana laws, our efforts must target all three fronts, federal, state and local.
Federal Changes from Virginia Conservatives
Three bills have been introduced by Virginia congressmen that would significantly reform the current federal policy of prohibition. Rep. Griffin (R-VA) from the 9th district introduced the Legitimate Use of Medical Marijuana Act and the Compassionate Access Act. Both would reschedule marijuana from its current Schedule 1 classification, and include protections for state programs.
Rep. Garrett (R-VA) from the 5th district introduced the Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act of 2017, and Rep. Scott Taylor (R-VA) from the 2nd quickly cosponsored. This bill would remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act altogether, allowing states the power and flexibility to establish their own marijuana policies free from federal interference. This legislation was carried by Sen. Sanders in the previous session, and now, conservative lawmakers from Virginia are marching down the same path. Make no mistake, that is because they were lobbied by Virginia families desperate for medical reform, both in our statehouse and DC.
Emergence of a New Regulated Cannabis Industry
In a watershed moment, the Virginia General Assembly unanimously passed a bill to regulate the in-state growth, production, and distribution of cannabis oil. Virginia NORML is closely monitoring the licensing process to ensure the agreed upon regulations are implemented swiftly and with patient safety and access of primary concern. Currently, the regulations only allow access to patients with intractable epilepsy. We are already hard at work with legislators preparing for expansion legislation in 2018 that will #LetDoctorsDecide which of their patients they would recommend medical cannabis to, just as they already do with all other medications.
You can join our patient coalition at Cannabis Commonwealth if you’d like to stand with us in the fight for all Virginian’s rights to access safe, regulated medical cannabis.
Local Efforts for Decriminalization
Grassroots. This word is spoken often, on every channel, by both parties. Why? Because it works. An old cliché says “80% of success is showing up.” If you want to see decriminalization succeed in Virginia, you have to show up. Get to your City Council now. Prior to each General Assembly, councils prepare their legislative packages, policy wish lists that they draft based on community input. Any resident can sign up to speak before their council on issues important to them during the public comment period of any meeting. Ask your council to include a request for decriminalization and/or doctor-recommended medical cannabis in their 2018 package.
Virginia operates under the Dillon Rule, which means municipalities cannot decriminalize, but they can deprioritize. City councils can direct their police departments to place the lowest level of priority on arresting adults for simple possession. And, Commonwealth Attorneys, which like city council are elected positions, are already empowered to refuse prosecuting misdemeanor possession charges, leaving resources available to prosecute violent crimes and felonies. Showing up is the first step in achieving any of these reforms!
Spring Into Action
Ready to do more but don’t know where to start? Get involved with your local Virginia NORML chapter, or check to see if your area has a Decriminalize movement, like Decriminalize Norfolk or Decriminalize Virginia Beach. If there is no group in your area, please contact us for help kickstarting the conversation in your hometown. Speakers, training, data, and procedural assistance are available through Virginia NORML to power your community’s journey to safer marijuana policies.