By DJ Rippert
Reefer madness. Virginia is notably lagging most other states in marijuana reform. Across America recreational marijuana is legal for adults in 11 states and legal for medical use in 33 states. Twenty-five states have decriminalized the possession of small amounts of marijuana. In Virginia marijuana is illegal, criminalized and unavailable for medical use. Yet change is blowing like smoke in the wind. As of today, there are six decriminalization bills pending in the General Assembly along with three bills for expungement of prior convictions, two legalization bills, and four bills to implement a medical marijuana regime in Virginia. Depending on which bills pass … Virginia could be looking at a near-term marijuana environment much different than its prohibitionist past. However, there are some combinations of events that could lead The Old Dominion into unintended (and negative) consequences.
Roach trap. One likely outcome from the 2020 General Assembly session is that possession of small amounts of marijuana will be decriminalized while efforts to legalize the recreational and medical use of marijuana will fail. This could put Virginia in a very sub-optimal position if neighboring states legalize marijuana. Virginia is a small state bordered by five other states and the District of Columbia. A very high percentage of Virginians live within an easy drive of neighboring jurisdictions. If Virginia decriminalizes while neighboring states legalize, the result will be effective untaxed legalization in much of Virginia. A surge of Virginians will drive over various borders to bring back marijuana purchased legally elsewhere. Marijuana use would increase in Virginia while none of the financial benefits of legalization (via taxes) would accrue to Virginia. But how likely is it that neighboring states will legalize recreational marijuana in 2020? Continue reading
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Tagged DJ Rippert, Don Rippert, marijuana, Marijuana reform, other states
by James A. Bacon
Enforcement of the laws of Virginia may become optional in Fairfax and Arlington Counties when newly elected Commonwealth’s Attorneys — Steve Descano in Fairfax and Parisa Dehghani-Tafti in Arlington — take office. Both have promised to stop prosecuting marijuana possession, reports the Washington Post.
Descano and Dehghani-Tafti said pot possession prosecutions do little to protect public safety, disproportionately fall on people of color, saddle defendants with damaging convictions and can be better spent on more serious crimes. …
Descano said the policy brings Fairfax County’s values into the courthouse. “I traveled around Fairfax County for over a year listening to people,” Descano said. “The thing that came up time and time again was simple possession of marijuana — how it was a waste of resources and led to unjust outcomes.”
The arguments against prosecuting pot possession are not unreasonable. Indeed, Governor Ralph Northam has proposed decriminalizing the offense. What’s disturbing is that the two prosecutors aren’t willing to wait for the General Assembly to enact a law this session, which would go into effect in July. They feel compelled to take legislative matters into their own hands and nullify the state law now in effect.
First sanctuary cities. Then second amendment sanctuaries. Now pot possession. The conviction is spreading across Virginia like a mutant flu virus that local officials are free to ignore laws they don’t like. Continue reading
Photo credit: Snopes
By Don Rippert
Ready, fire, aim. In Virginia, it seems likely that the Democratic Party’s control of the General Assembly and Governorship will result in decriminalizing possession of small amounts of marijuana. This legislation will likely be passed in the 2020 session and go into law next summer. But what are the details of decriminalization? What specific policy decisions should our lawmakers consider when drafting the decriminalization legislation? Failing to consider these issues in advance of the legislative session could usher in a repeat of the shambolic attempt to legalize casino gambling in Virginia
By Don Rippert
Cannabis certitude. The seemingly inexorable march toward legalized marijuana in the United States continues unabated. A poll of 9,900 American adults conducted by the Pew Research Center from September 3 – 15, 2019 found that 67% of the respondents thought cannabis should be legalized. That’s five percentage points higher than Pew’s last poll on the subject conducted in 2018. Many state legislatures are acting on behalf of their constituents. Legal weed sales began last Sunday in Michigan and will commence on New Year’s Day in Illinois. At the federal level the House Judiciary Committee approved a bill legalizing marijuana at the federal level. As of today 33 states have legalized medical marijuana and 11 states have approved the sale of recreational marijuana to adults. Six more states seem very likely to make decisions on legalizing recreational marijuana in 2020 – Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Missouri, New Jersey and South Dakota. As legal marijuana becomes big business pundits are predicting the future of legal weed. Arcview Market Research and BDS Analytics believe that medical marijuana will be legalized in every state by 2024 and recreational marijuana will be legal in 20 states by that date. Virginia is not among the 20.
Weed in the
Old Ancient Pre-historic Dominion. Virginia is one of 15 states where marijuana is fully illegal. (Note: I do not count CBD oil sales as partial legalization). The first step on the long road to legalization is usually decriminalization. In 2018 Virginia’s General Assembly considered a bill to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana. It was killed along a purely party line vote in the Senate Courts of Justice Committee. In 2019 another decriminalization bill was considered. Virginia’s Republican leadership in the General Assembly couldn’t muster the minimal courage to take the 2019 bill to the full committee and killed it in sub-committee. Later that year the Republicans got their heads handed to them in the General Assembly election. What a surprise. Now Democrats hold a trifecta in Virginia with control of the House, Senate and Governorship. Once again, Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria) is the patron for proposed legislation to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana. However, this year unlike the past, Ebbin’s party is in control.
by James A. Bacon
When social breakdown, a drug epidemic and failed government institutions converge, this is what you get: babies like Charlee Ford (seen at left) born with opioids and marijuana in her system and diagnosed with cerebral palsy. After birth, her lungs failed for nine minutes before doctors revived her. In her short, tortured lifetime, she suffered from severe seizures. She died at an age of four months.
Graphic credit: Roanoke Times
The surging use and abuse of opioids and other illegal drugs such as methamphetamines is associated with a horrifying increase in the number of Virginia babies born addicted to drugs. Worse, these babies are usually born into totally dysfunctional families. Mothers and fathers are themselves are likely to be substance abusers, which puts the babies at high risk of abuse and neglect. Meanwhile, child protective services in Virginia are uneven in quality — some local programs, one might say, are as bureaucratically dysfunctional as the families they serve.
The Roanoke Times tells the tragic story here. The focus is on Rockbridge County in the Shenandoah Valley. But similar stories can be found all around the state. It’s a long story but worth the investment in time.
Bacon’s bottom line: Maybe the Roanoke Times article hit me harder today than it would have previously because this weekend I visited my month-old grandson for the first time and cradled the tiny, helpless little creature in my arms. He is a lucky one, blessed by two loving, hyper-conscientious parents who will take very good care of him. Many babies are not so fortunate. Charlee’s story prompts several thoughts…. Continue reading
High there! As Virginia politicians scramble to stake out positions on reforming marijuana laws in the Old Dominion ahead of this November’s elections, it is useful to look at the actual experience in Colorado after five years of legal recreational marijuana sales. There is no universally accepted source of truth regarding the success or failure of Colorado’s marijuana legalization. However, many articles have been written regarding Colorado’s experience and the general perception seems to be positive albeit with some significant concerns. As Virginia moves down the road of marijuana reform its political class would be well advised to heed the lessons of those who have already gone down that path. Continue reading
Data exhaust. In a relatively recent BR post “Marijuana arrests and racism in Virginia (especially Arlington County)” I examined the disparity between black and white Virginians when it comes to arrests for marijuana possession. My conclusion that African-American Virginians are disproportionately arrested for marijuana possession came from data generated by a VCU Capital News Service study on the matter. Helpfully, the VCU / CNS article provided a link to a spreadsheet containing the raw data (you can download the same spreadsheet from the source link under the Datawrapper graphic). As I’ve continued to examine the VCU / CNS data I’ve noticed that it’s not just your race that affects the odds of being arrested for marijuana possession. Where you are in Virginia matters too. A lot. Continue reading
Based on data from the latest Virginia State Police “Crime in Virginia” report, Attorney General Mark R. Herring recently noted that Virginia arrests for marijuana-related charges increased 3.5% in 2018, capping off a tripling of marijuana-related arrests since 2002.
“While other states are moving to a more sensible approach to cannabis, Virginia is still moving in the wrong direction. It makes absolutely no sense,”Herring said in a press release. “Marijuana arrests are now at their highest level in at least two decades and maybe ever, meaning that even more Virginians, especially young people and people of color, are being saddled with criminal records that can drastically affect their lives. Now is the time to put a stop to this costly, unfair, and ineffective approach, and to pursue a better, smarter, fairer course.”
Yesterday I promised to take a closer look at the crime data to see if Herring’s representation of the marijuana-related arrest trends is fair. As far as I can tell, it is. But the conclusions he draws may not be. Continue reading
The Virginia State Police have published their Crime in Virginia update for 2018, and it is worth noting what Attorney General Mark R. Herring is focusing on in a press release issued today — the fact that marijuana arrests increased 3.5% last year, more than tripling since 1999. No mention of hate crimes.
Last year Herring launched his bid for the Democratic Party gubernatorial nomination with a roadshow decrying a supposed surge in white supremacist hate crimes. But the number of total hate crimes in Virginia, including those allegedly perpetrated by whites and those allegedly perpetrated against blacks, declined last year, continuing a long-term downward trend.
Not only were there fewer hate crimes reported in Virginia last year, most of them were minor in nature. None were homicides, only one was arson, and only seven were classified as aggravated assault. Given how elected officials and the media have magnified the issue of race and ethnicity in the public discourse today, the fact that race- and ethnic-based hate crimes declined in the Old Dominion last year suggests that the public attitudes and behaviors are not nearly as polarized as those of the political class. Continue reading
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. Continue reading
The doctor who should be governor. State Sen. Siobhan Dunnavant is a Republican from Henrico County. She is also a practicing physician. In this year’s General Assembly session she put forth SB1557 which expanded last year’s so-called “Let Doctor’s Decide” legislation (HB1251).
What’s new? The 2018 legislation (HB1251) authorized licensed medical providers to prescribe CBD and THC-A oil “to alleviate the symptoms of any diagnosed condition or disease determined by the practitioner to benefit from such use.” CBD, or cannabidiol, is a naturally occurring compound found in the resinous flower of marijuana plants. It is used to treat a variety of maladies. It is non-intoxicating. THCA, or tetrahydrocannabinolic acid, is the non-psychoactive acid form of THC found in marijuana plants when raw. It is also non-intoxicating unless it is heated. Once heated, THCA releases THC which is intoxicating. The 2018 legislation restricted THCA oil to contain no more than 5 mg of THC (the psychoactive component of marijuana). Continue reading
It’s a long way from Colorado to Virginia!
Elevated thinking. I recently had the opportunity to do some skiing in Colorado. I hadn’t been to Colorado since the state legalized recreational marijuana use in 2014. I expected to see a Cheech and Chong movie played out on a vast scale high in the Rocky Mountains. That expectation went unmet. Instead, I saw an American town where legal marijuana use has been incorporated into everyday life in a barely noticeable manner. Colorado has more pot shops than Starbucks outlets but you wouldn’t know that from a cursory visit. All of which got me thinking – what has been the marijuana legalization experience in Colorado and what lessons are there for Virginia?
Nil sine numine. “Nothing without providence.” Residents of The Centennial State believe Colorado is guided by a “divine will.” After five years of “divine will” has legal pot turned into Rastafarian revelry or Puritanical perfidy? My unscientific poll of Coloradans riding various chairlifts and gondolas with me established a consensus of … “more good than bad”. Continue reading
people elite. A number of proposed bills to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana were put forth in the ongoing General Assembly session. These bills were systematically killed in subcommittee by a tiny fraction of the General Assembly. Generally speaking, five Republican Delegates decided that the proposed marijuana reform bills should not reach the full committee let alone the entirety of the General Assembly for a vote. These five legislators know, or should have known, that the vast majority of Virginians (in poll after poll) favor the decriminalization of marijuana. Continue reading
High in Henrico. Henrico County based Altria, makers of Marlboro cigarettes among other products, is rumored to be interested in buying Canadian cannabis company Cronos Group. Altria is refusing comment while Cronos said it “confirmed that it is engaged in discussions concerning a potential investment by Altria Group … in Cronos Group.” Cronos went on to say that no agreement had been reached and there is no assurance that the discussions will lead to a deal.
Is that really a maple leaf on the flag? Canada legalized possession of marijuana nationally effective October 17, 2018. Under the national law provinces have some latitude regarding specific cannabis regulation. In Quebec and Alberta, the legal age is 18; it’s 19 in the remainder of the country for example. However, unlike the United States, there is no dichotomy between national and provincial (state) law. There can be no doubt that this legal clarity is encouraging companies like Altria to consider entering the Canadian marijuana market while sitting on the sidelines of American states which have legalized grass.
Implications for Virginia. Pot legislation and the business of selling pot is moving quickly in North America. In November Michigan became the tenth US state to legalize possession of marijuana. There is legislation pending for the 2019 General Assembly session to decriminalize marijuana in the Old Dominion. Now an iconic and politically connected Virginia-based company apparently sees no moral or ethical issue with participating in Canada’s legal marijuana market. Given that Altria’s board includes Virginia luminaries such as Thomas F Farrell, CEO of Dominion and John T Casteen, former President of UVA one wonders if Altria’s plans might lend respectability to marijuana reform in Virginia.
I smell refund. In 2018 a bill to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana (SB 111) was defeated along party lines in the Courts of Justice. Nine Republican state senators voted against the bill. Over the years all nine have received campaign contributions from Altria. Given that these nine politicians see marijuana possession as a serious crime one would hope they will return these campaign contributions given that Altria is trying to engage in marijuana production, distribution and sale. After all, is it moral to keep money contributed by a company engaging in practices you think should be illegal? Here are the amounts (per VPAP):
Obenshain – $44,250
Norment – $128,433
McDougle – $58,000
Stuart – $8,500
Stanley – $9,500
Reeves – $28,265
Chafin – $1,500
Sturtevant – $8,000
Peake – $500
— Don Rippert
Reefer madness. The upcoming debate in the Virginia General Assembly over decriminalizing possession of small amounts of marijuana may have racial overtones. VCU Capital News Service studied the data for marijuana arrests in Virginia from 2010 through 2016. African Americans were 3.2 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana crimes than whites. At the same time separate research shows almost no difference in marijuana use between white and black Americans. Across America it’s even worse. Nationally, a black person is 3.73 times more likely to be arrested for a marijuana crime than a white person.
Location, location, location. VCU Capital News Service breaks down the data by locality. You can find the numbers here. The only jurisdictions where the per capita arrest rate for whites is higher than blacks are those counties where the population is so low that a single arrest can make a statistical difference. Highland County, for example, averaged 13 African American residents over the study’s time period and none of the 13 were arrested for marijuana crimes. Two white people (out of about 2,200) were arrested for marijuana crimes in Highland County. In all of Virginia’s populous localities the African American arrest rate was notably higher than the corresponding rate for white people. In Hanover County for example, blacks were arrested at a frequency 6.3 times that of whites.
Libtopia. Anybody who has ever been to Arlington County knows that safe spaces are mandated by the building codes, snowflakes can be seen in July and rainbow colored unicorns prance in the bike lanes. It’s a progressive paradise. So it probably comes as a surprise that African Americans were more than eight times more likely than whites to be arrested for marijuana crimes in Arlington from 2010 – 2016. Arlington County’s Board has five Democrats, no Republicans and no independents. The lone independent (John Vihstadt) was defeated in November. How is it possible for the Lions of Libtopia to turn a blind eye to rampant racism occurring in their social justice warrior wonderland?
The Hook is dope. If you do want to posses marijuana you ought to consider residing in the City of Charlottesville (25 total arrests per 100,000 residents) rather than the City of Emporia (1,595 total arrests per 100,000 residents). You are 64 times more likely to get a reefer bust in Emporia than in Charlottesville. Does anybody think that the people of Emporia use marijuana 64 times more often than the people in Charlottesville? In fairness, I95 comprises about 1/2 of the border of Emporia so many of the arrests may be people using that highway. However, Falls Church (51) vs Fairfax City (589) makes one wonder.
Unfair at any speed. As the General Assembly considers decriminalizing the possession of small amounts of marijuana it should also consider the fairness of the present system. Vast differences are observable in the enforcement of marijuana laws across race and location. In locality after locality you are more likely to be arrested for marijuana if you are black vs white. The City of Charlottesville (pop 45k) made 11 marijuana related arrests from 2010 through 2016, fewer than 2 per year. The City of Danville (pop 43k) made 354 arrests over the same period, over 50 per year.
— Don Rippert