Illinois to Legalize Recreational Pot: Implications for Virginia

Legal tokin’ in the Land of Lincoln. Illinois governor J.B. Pritzker is expected to sign Illinois’ recreational marijuana legalization bill tomorrow. Illinois, America’s sixth most populous state, will become the 11th state to legalize the recreational use of marijuana. The District of Columbia has also legalized the possession of ganja. This has implications for Virginia.

First, Illinois is the first state to legalize the possession and sale of marijuana via the state legislature. Vermont’s legislature legalized the possession but not the sale of marijuana. All other states came to legalization via citizen led ballot initiatives. Since the Virginia Constitution has no provision for citizen-led ballot initiatives, the General Assembly would have to follow in the footsteps of the Illinois legislature to legalize marijuana in the Old Dominion. Illinois has proven this is possible. The second implication is the looming encirclement of Virginia by states with legalized recreational marijuana. The closer legal pot dispensaries get to Virginia the harder it will be for Virginia to stop cross border marijuana flows.

Pritzker’s Pro Pot Pledge. Legal pot in Illinois was no grassroots uprising. Pritzker’s winning gubernatorial campaign over incumbent Republican Bruce Rauner featured a clear message from Pritzker … elect me and I’ll get recreational marijuana legalized. Rauner was equally clear … elect me and recreational marijuana will remain illegal. Pritzker won, relegating Rauner to the political hemp heap. This may be a harbinger of things to come in Virginia where we elect a new governor every four years. According to polls 76% of Virginians favor marijuana decriminalization (CNU, 2/2018) and 59% favor legalization (Quinnipiac, 4/2017). The difference in a close governor’s race could easily hinge on the decriminalization/legalization question. In fact, Virginia’s Attorney General Mark Herring recently called for legalization. Herring is an announced candidate for Virginia governor in the 2021 election. Legalization could also benefit candidate Herring by allowing him to reframe his blackface controversy as a more understandable exploding bong mishap if the political winds seem to be blowing in favor of a more tolerant view of youthful marijuana use.

But, but, but … the Republicans. Historically, Virginia Republicans have thwarted attempts at marijuana reform. Despite 76% of Virginians favoring the decriminalization of marijuana, General Assembly Republicans killed a 2019 bill to do that just that. These Republicans adopted the cowardly approach of killing the bill in sub-committee rather than letting the full committee and/or the full legislature vote on the matter. I don’t have the time or the crayons required to explain to Virginia Republicans why using subterfuge to thwart the will of 76% of their constituents is a bad idea. I’m guessing they will learn that lesson for themselves this November when they become the minority party. However, even if they manage to hold on in 2019 they will find it very hard to kill marijuana reform legislation in sub-committee once it becomes an issue in the 2021 governor’s race. Ask former Illinois Republican governor Bruce Rauner how opposing marijuana reform worked for him.

Virginia is being surrounded, again. Attempting to rally behind lost causes is a hallmark of the plantation class that runs Virginia. From ruining farmland by over planting tobacco centuries ago to allowing special interests to stuff money into our legislators’ pockets today … Virginia is uniquely slow to allow reality to intrude on its bourbon and branch water philosophy. While our politicians continue to run headlong into the 1960s the rest of America evolves and moves on.

Tomorrow it’s Illinois. This November a citizen initiated referendum goes on the ballot in Ohio to legalize recreational marijuana. It will pass. In 2020 New York and New Jersey are expected to pass similar laws. Delaware and Maryland have decriminalized marijuana possession. Maryland’s legalization bill never came to a vote in the 2019 session but Delaware’s House of Representatives is poised to vote on a legalization bill now that the bill passed the House Revenue and Finance Committee with an 8 – 3 majority (June 5).  North Carolina enacted a law in 1977 to stop jailing those who possess small amounts of marijuana. In Virginia first-time offenders carrying even less than half an ounce still can face 30 days in jail and a $500 fine; for subsequent offenses, you’re looking at a year in prison and a $2,500 fine. African-Americans in Virginia are disproportionately arrested for marijuana possession. And how is Virginia’s war on pot going? Not well. “Only about 13,000 individuals were arrested for marijuana possession in 2003 in Virginia. That amount grew by some 115 percent by 2017 with nearly 28,000 people facing convictions for small amounts of cannabis.”

We’ve sprung a leak. Meanwhile, there is more and more leakage. While Virginia’s efforts to combat marijuana have been a dismal failure for decades, those efforts are becoming less effective by the day. For example, D.C. has adopted a limbo land regulation whereby it’s legal to possess marijuana but not to sell it. So, Virginians working in D.C. can’t get the stuff and bring it home via the Metro, right? Not quite. Canamelo is a D.C.- based cannabis delivery service that accepts “donations” for transferred pot. Getting Foreman Farm Blunts ($45 donation) or Fruity Pebble Treats ($10 donation) is just a text message away for the reefer-starved Virginian working in the District. I guess we can take some solace in this. Instead of Virginia’s marijuana prohibition funding Mexican drug cartels it’s now benefiting DC-based entrepreneurs.

Don’t bogart that summary, my friend. Virginia’s marijuana prohibition is ineffective in curtailing the use of marijuana. It creates expensive enforcement actions. It taints young people with lifelong criminal records for simple possession. It generates racist outcomes. It eschews tax money for the state in favor of profits for drug cartels or funding for out of state legal sellers  It denies rural Virginia the opportunity to participate in a valuable cash crop. In other words, it’s a perfect example of The Imperial Clown Show in Richmond at work. A complete disaster.

— Don Rippert

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25 responses to “Illinois to Legalize Recreational Pot: Implications for Virginia

  1. I wish Virginia had the right of citizens to initiate referenda on several issues. For instance, I bet would address the issue of corporate and PAC money in the GA – I think.

    Virginia still has a lot of Geography that is Conservative and if we allowed each county to decide if they would legalize marijuana- would the resulting geographic map look a lot like how the counties vote politically?

    And if we throw in Opiods would we vote to “help” those with Opiod problems but jail those with “weed” problems?

    • Virginia allowed localities to be “wet” or “dry” for decades. 9 counties are completely dry today.

      Steve wrote about the issue in February ….

      Marijuana should be legal in Virginia but localities should be able to decide whether or not they want dispensaries in their locales. The assumption should be for dispensaries with an exemption possible if a local referendum approves prohibition.

      Opioid addiction is a whole different kettle of fish from marijuana reform. Nobody dies from a pot overdose. People die from opioid overdoses every day.

      In 2017, there were 1,241 drug overdose deaths involving opioids in Virginia—a rate of 14.8 deaths per 100,000 persons. As recently as 2010 there were fewer than 400 opioid deaths in Virginia.


    Agreed on the overdose question, but pot is not without risk or harm, really. No worries about impaired driving? You are beating on the General Assembly like Virginia is the only hold out state that hasn’t taken this step, when of course the list remains short and the federal law remains in conflict. Whatever is done, it needs to be a statewide policy. I’m sure it’s a potent political magnet, so we’ll see. Sex, guns, drugs, booze, gambling – bread and circuses to distract the masses while the power brokers make the important decisions in the dark…..

    • Marijuana has risks. Driving while high is one of them. But I am a realist. It’s happening right now and (based on the arrest data) at an increasing rate. The prohibition is not working. Not at all. All the money goes to criminals and to out of state legal growers (and illegal importers).

      As for Virginia not being the only holdout … it’s getting close to that. If you consider decriminalization, medical marijuana usage (and not just CBD oil) Virginia is, as usual, a member of a very small set of states. Per this list, Virginia is one of only 13 states where marijuana is “illegal” in the strict sense …

      When states like Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and West Virginia are more future facing than Virginia there is a problem.

      I would have been a lot happier if the 2019 decriminalization bill would have been voted on by the full General Assembly. Given that polls indicate 76% of Virginians favor decriminalization … shouldn’t we demand, at a minimum, that our representatives vote on the matter?

      I am tired of yo-yo’s like Ralph Northam picking my pocket for every lefty program he can think of while potential taxes go to drug dealers and the MGM Grand Casino just across from Alexandria in National Harbor, MD.

  3. re: driving while…………….

    from alcohol to prescription drugs to screwing around with a cell phone, etc… I DON’T think it is LOGICAL to ban alcohol or prescription drugs because they would be used by people when driving – so I think that argument used for pot is arbitrary and inconsistent.

    The problem with POT and Opioids is the same problem we had when alcohol was illegal. You put these things on the other side of the law and you make them criminal justice issues instead of health issues.

    We should no more be putting people in jail over pot than we should over alcohol or using prescription drugs while driving.

    We should regulate not ban – and for operating a motor vehicle – focus on the behavior of the driver – and then if they seem to be under the influence – charge them and find out what they were “on” ; these days there is a wide variety of things to include screwing with the cell phone.

    I’m no defender of pot use – any more or less than I am of alcohol use and that’s the issue – we have arbitrary and capricious laws on pot.

  4. It’s an election year, DJ – you make your demand to your candidates and I may make mine to mine….see you in January. Agreed, the public (me included) sees little value in criminal sanctions against simple personal possession. Moving from that to legalization and full commercial availability is another big step, and I’d be fine with waiting a bit to see how that all works out elsewhere. As to medical usage, I tend to wait until the FDA tells me something works, and when the approved drugs do appear they won’t be making people high. Which will disappoint some :).

    • Glad to hear you are in support of decriminalization of marijuana in Virginia. That’s a start. In fact, it’s almost always the first step. I hope you do make that demand clear to your elected representatives.

      As far as “waiting to see …” Colorado and Washington both legalized recreational marijuana seven years ago … in 2012. By the time of the next Virginia governor’s race we will have ten years of data / observations. Marijuana will already be decriminalized in Virginia by then. The question in 2021 will be legalization. The majority of Virginians are already in favor. You are fighting a losing battle on this one. Even in a state that used Massive Resistance to drag out segregation modernity and the will of the people eventually prevail.

      As for the FDA – the same pack of geniuses who thought opioids were just peachy keen ways of treating pain ten years ago? What could go wrong? They certainly did a fine job of regulating the pharmaceutical companies on that one. Beyond that, marijuana is still ridiculously maintained as a Schedule I drug at the Federal level. Absurd. Even CBD oil (legal in Virginia) is illegal at the Federal level. Did you know that your General Assembly is breaking Federal law?

      However, the big issue here is “Richmond-thinking” vs “NoVa thinking”. The Richmond elite can’t seem to accept that Virginia’s prohibition isn’t working and has never worked. Of course, the Richmond elite can’t accept that the Confederacy lost the Civil War either so I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. The NoVa elite accept that our own Robert E Lee unconditionally surrendered at Appopmattox. For us, the Civil War ended that day. We also accept the reality that America’s prohibition on marijuana has failed. Marijuana use is at an all time high on college campuses. It has been increasing since 2006 – 6 years before the first states legalized recreational use.

      Since the prohibition isn’t working, we’re faced with a pretty binary choice … send the proceeds to criminals and drug cartels or send the profits to in-state entrepreneurs and the state government. You support the drug cartels if you’d like, I’ll vote for in-state entrepreneurs.

  5. re: “Richmond thinking versus NoVa”.

    Yeah, I suspect that afflicts Steve but either he does not know it or will not admit it! 😉

    You know the funny thing here is that no one claims that cigarettes, alcohol, Opioids should be “allowed” because they “might” be a medical benefit… yet… we treat pot like it is worse than beer or cigarettes and therefore needs to meet a higher bar before it might be “legalized”.

    These other states have reached that conclusion – but in Virginia, we’re still stuck in decades-old thinking.

    We still give people criminal felony records for POT use – the only difference between felony and misdemeanor being the amount.

    Imagine if getting a Keg of beer would get you a felony conviction for “intent to distribute” ….

    The simple awful reality is that the police use such laws as a way to snap folks, many who are people of color, into the criminal justice system… and they will continue to do so until we say they cannot.

    Some day – when you go into a 7-11 – you’ll be able to legally buy “regulated” products – like beer, wine, cigarettes …….and pot.

  6. Great article. Thanks for posting it.

    I haven’t smoked marijuana since the early 1980’s. And I have no desire to do so. Even after Washington State legalized recreational marijuana in 2010, I didn’t use it.

    However, if I had a medical condition that could benefit from marijuana I wouldn’t hesitate to use it, whether it was legal or not.

    That’s really the point isn’t it? People are going to use marijuana if they want to regardless of it’s legal status.

    Years ago, Republicans like Milton Friedman (Nobel Laureate), William Buckley (founder of the modern conservative movement), and George Shultz (President Reagan’s Secretary of State) were way out in front on marijuana legalization. Unfortunately, much of the rest of the GOP wasn’t smart enough to follow and now they’ve handed the left another popular issue. It’s so very frustrating.

    • You and I are both libertarians. Just because we don’t smoke pot doesn’t give us the right to prevent others from doing so. For all of their bluster about liberty most Republicans aren’t really very liberty-loving or libertarian. They’re only too happy to regulate people’s private lives via the government while constantly bellyaching about government regulation.

      Friedman, Buckley and Schultz had more IQ points than all of the Republicans currently in the US Congress and the Virginia General Assembly added together.

  7. Can I make one more point?

    While I am 100% in favor of legalizing marijuana, I am 100% opposed to decriminalization of marijuana.

    What do I mean by that?

    Decriminalization usually means allowing individuals to posses small amounts of marijuana for personal use while keeping the marijuana trade in the hands of dangerous criminals.

    Part of the point of marijuana legalization is to remove criminals from the marijuana trade. So halfhearted attempts to decriminalize possession but not legalize trade are misguided.

    • In a perfect world – yes. However, in the real world of places like Virginia and North Carolina change can only come slowly (and almost always late). It happens in steps. Decriminalization still lets the bad guys profit but people possessing a small amount of a plant aren’t saddled with a criminal record. It’s far from a perfect answer but it’s a start to what will be inevitable legalization.

  8. As an update to this story, Illinois Governor JB Pritzker did sign the recreational marijuana bill into law this morning making Illinois the 11th state to legalize recreational marijuana.

    • 11th, not 41st….

      • When did I imply Illinois was the 41st state? The issue in Virginia isn’t just legalization. It’s medical marijuana (beyond CBD oil), decriminalization, etc. Considering the full spectrum of marijuana law reform Virginia is part of a pretty small minority of states that basically consider marijuana fully illegal. North Carolina eliminated jail time for possession in 1977. That’s North Carolina, not Massachusetts and that’s 1977 not 2017.

  9. re: ” favor legalizing (personal use) of marijuana versus opposing decriminalization of marijuana (sales by criminal enterprises?).

    yes and that’s why in places that are in transition – like Virginia – the “pro” folks see that contradictory untenable conflict as a slippery-slope “feature” not a “bug”!

    and even then, we still have seemingly contradictory attitudes about drugs in general because even advocates of legalizing marijuana won’t also agree to opioids or fentanyl or other narcotics … i.e. they still essentially agree with the mindset that there ARE , there does exist – “BAD Drugs” that SHOULD be banned with a fuzzy line defining what “bad” means . So the anti-marijanna “because it’s a bad drug” folks still have a lot of juice in their “anti” stance and the “pro” folks don’t want to get into “what drugs are bad and why” arguments.

    So.. I’ll challenge folks here. Fentanyl is a powerful drug – no question but what is the Govt’s legitimate purpose in controlling it especially if they knowingly allow wealthy folks to acquire and use it but street folks get big time jail? If you want to take Fentanyl and it ruins your life and/or your family’s – does that justify the govt preventing access to it?
    Who is the govt protecting?

  10. DJ, I’m not going to talk to my representatives either way. Other than providing a foil in these discussions, I am largely agnostic on the issue and could easily argue the other side (and have, especially a few decades ago!) I do not blame the legislators who are cautious, nor do I blame those who are just opposed.

    Larry, if I can be sure that the medical costs of dealing with drug addicts in the health care and social welfare system don’t end up costing the rest of us money, then great – let ’em take all the dope they want. But crime pays for the drugs and then taxes clean up the resulting mess, so its not that simple, is it? Plenty of families are destroyed, daily, by drug addiction. No way is that a victimless crime.

    • I don’t know what legislators are cautious and neither do you. The decriminalization bill in 2019 was killed in sub-committee by 5 Republicans. I have no idea where the other 135 members of the General Assembly stand on the matter.

    • “Larry, if I can be sure that the medical costs of dealing with drug addicts in the health care and social welfare system don’t end up costing the rest of us money, then great …”

      The medical costs of dealing with drug addiction occur today. The war on drugs has failed – especially with regard to marijuana. Same with tobacco, obesity and booze. At least taxing marijuana would generate some state funds that could be used to treat the fallout.

      Given that Virginia has the second lowest tax on cigarettes I am surprised that you are not looking for more money to help pay for the unbelievable medical costs of smoking. The General Assembly has even capped the additional tax counties can levy on tobacco. I guess harmful products don’t have to bear their fair share of the costs as long as there is a major manufacturer of cancer sticks in Richmond.

      In the speech accompanying the signing of Illinois’ legalization bill yesterday Gov Pritzker made the unabashed claim that marijuana is less harmful that alcohol. Should we go back to prohibition on booze too?

  11. Posted on behalf of Nick Kallenich:

    On the legalization of marijuana, my son who is a Federal Law Enforcement Officer, brings up some very valid and critical points:
    1- With alcohol, there’s a legal set limit that CAN be measured. “Blow into the tube please!”
    2- Marijuana there’s is not set limit.
    3- How do you test for “legal” limit? My son stated that currently, drawing blood is the only method. And it stays in your system up to 30 days after a toke.
    4- Even with States legalization, marijuana is still a class 1 drug under Federal guidelines.
    5- The States that legalized marijuana are at risk of losing Federal Law Enforcement grants. How do these States make up that money loss?
    6 – Can you smoke a joint while driving your car?

    As you can see, on what my son points out, and the list goes on, no one is addressing these issues before legalization. My son ended the conversation by saying…”If someone is high on marijuana, then kills a pedestrian while driving, what law do you prosecute them under? We don’t even have a Federal Code for this.”

    There has to be a better way other than the screaming, “make it legal.” Once the barn door is opened, you won’t be able to shut it again.

    By the way, I’m a retired New York City paramedic…..I’ve been on the receiving end too many times of poor judgement.

    • I support decriminalization of pot for possession of small quantities — a rare instance in which I agree with the social justice warriors. However, there are many issues — like those raised in the previous post — that need to be addressed if we’re going to legalize weed. We need to hold pot-heads accountable for the adverse consequences of their behavior in the same way we hold drunks accountable.

      • The fallacy in your logic is that you assume people don’t use marijuana now because it’s illegal in Virginia. That’s just not true. They are not held accountable today. Illinois estimates $1b per year in marijuana taxes once the dispensaries are fully rolled out. That could fund a lot of opioid treatment centers.

        We need to pick our fights. The fight against marijuana has been lost.

    • Thanks for posting. I hope Mr. Kallenich will sign up (under his own name or a pseudonym) and become a regular commenter.

      Alcohol was legal in the age of the automobile long before there were portable breathalyzers. Drunk driving was illegal and police did what they could to stop it. More importantly, the use of marijuana is rising not falling. This has been true since 2005 or so … well before the first states legalized marijuana (in 2012). The prohibition isn’t working and people are driving stoned in Virginia every day. Will legalization or decriminalization increase the use of marijuana and increase the number of people driving high? Maybe. Maybe not. New Hampshire and Rhode Island are both top 10 states for marijuana use and pot is not legal in either. Montana is a top 15 state and pot is illegal (not decriminalized). Alaska is the number 1 state for pot use and it’s legal there. Nevada doesn’t make the top 17 list and it’s full legal in Nevada.

      There is also progress being made on a marijuana breathalyzer …

      “Multiple law enforcement agencies have tested it, and we are in the process of commercializing it so that it’ll be out on the streets and in the work place later this year,”

      As far as a stoned driver hitting a pedestrian … that can’t be prosecuted today either. And there are plenty of stoned drivers on Virginia streets. Again – see also: prohibition not working.

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