Virginia to Consider New Marijuana Decriminalization bill in 2019 General Assembly Session

If at first you don’t succeed … State Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-30) has pre-filed a 2019 bill to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana in Virginia. The matter will be taken up in the General Assembly session in early 2019.  Last year Ebbin patroned a similar bill that was defeated 9-6 in the Senate Courts of Justice Committee along party lines.

Still illegal.  The new Ebbin bill, like the one in 2018, proposes to decriminalize (rather than legalize) the possession of small amounts of marijuana in the Old Dominion. The law presently in place provides for a maximum $500 fine and up to a 30 day jail term for the first offense.  Penalties escalate for subsequent offenses. Ebbin’s proposed bill makes possession of a small amount of marijuana a civil offense with fines of $50 to $250 depending on a variety of circumstances such as whether it was the first offense or a subsequent offense.

Another loser for the RPV / GOP.  The vast majority of Americans and Virginians support the decriminalization of marijuana. In fact, a notable majority of Americans and Virginians go so far as to support legalization of marijuana. Yet the supposedly liberty loving, regulation hating Republican Party has done everything it can to oppose both decriminalization and legalization. As previously mentioned, the nine Republicans on the Senate Courts of Justice Committee blocked full house consideration of Sen Ebbin’s bill in 2018. At the national level it’s much the same. Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) has written a “Blueprint to Legalize Marijuana” .  It’s a pretty simple plan … take control of the House then enact marijuana reform. Up until now that blueprint was blocked by the House Rules Committee led by its chairman, Pete Sessions (R-TX).  But things are different now that the Democrats have taken control of the house.  Plant prohibitionists like Rep Sessions are no longer calling the shots.

2019. Another year, another marijuana decriminalization bill in the Virginia General Assembly. What will become of SB997 in 2019? My guess is for a repeat of 2018 with Republicans killing the bill in committee.

Demographic changes? There has been a lot of discussion about the recent federal election on this blog. Much has been made of how the success of Democrats in Virginia is an inevitable consequence of demographics and the influx of those from outside Virginia. Some have even taken to calling Virginia the southernmost northeastern state. Balderdash. The real problem is that Virginia’s Republican politicians and the RPV are clueless. The question of marijuana reform crosses demographic boundaries. Middle-aged adults are using marijuana at an increasing rate. Last year, all nine of the Republicans on the Senate Courts of Justice Committee voted to block the decriminalization bill. At the same time 76% of the Virginians these Republicans claim to represent support marijuana decriminalization. Meanwhile, arrests in Virginia for marijuana rose 20% in the last year. Arrests for a “crime” that more than three quarters of Virginians don’t think should be a crime are skyrocketing while the aged political elite in the RPV blocks so much as a full vote on the matter. I wonder why the Republicans keep losing in Virginia? It has far more to due with a lack of competence than a change in demographics.

— Don Rippert

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9 responses to “Virginia to Consider New Marijuana Decriminalization bill in 2019 General Assembly Session

  1. I thought this was a cool map that portrays population instead of geography on elections in Virginia.

    This one is for Kaine/Stewart… I wonder what it would show on the marijuana issue.

    This is one of those issues is hard core in some areas where people believe that using one drug leads to the use of others so they consider Marijanna a “gateway” drug.

    On the other hand, opiod use actually decreases in states that have made marijuana more “legal”.

    This is one of those “don’t confuse me with the facts” issue also IMHO.


    • I’ve thought about that a lot. Do attitudes about marijuana vary by area of Virginia? My suspicion is … “probably not much”. It’s legal in Vermont and Maine which are substantially rural in nature. Michigan just legalized marijuana by citizen referendum. I’ll see if I can find the geographic breakdown on that vote.

  2. >>On the other hand, opiod use actually decreases in states that have made marijuana more “legal”.

    Larry, I think I’d like to see the evidence on this one. You may be right, but the devil is typically in the details.

    Otherwise, while I think the use of MJ is extremely ill-advised (see Harvard med school study of …2014?), I have no doubt that there are an awful lot of folks who think it should be legal. Aside from the medical problems with its general use, it is difficult to prove someone is under the influence when driving. You are inviting more trips to the hospital for blood draws. Even if present in the blood, there is no agreement on what level constitutes impairment. Courts and cops are relying on the “I-know-it-when-I-see-it” test.

    • In support of Larry’s point …

      As a quibble … I’ve never advocated for the use of marijuana, only that it ought to be legal. Lots of things are legal that I don’t think you should do … like smoking cigarettes.

      Widespread use of breathalyzers is a relatively new phenomenon. I’d guess dating back to about 1980 but that’s just my guess. Nobody talked about re-instituting the prohibition of alcohol based on a lack of breathalyzers. In any event, plenty of people smoke marijuana and I assume that some of them drive while impaired. Making marijuana illegal hasn’t stopped its use, it has only enriched the criminals who grow, ship and sell it. Meanwhile, marijuana enforcement costs in Virginia are estimated at $100m per year. Michigan estimates that legalized marijuana will bring in $290m in tax revenues (with a slightly larger population than Virginia). So, in Virginia … call it a $300m per year swing through a combination of reduced costs and increased taxes?

      I’d like to write more but I’ve gotta run … I have a vodka shooting party with free unfiltered cigarettes and double cheeseburgers ahead of my nighttime sky diving class. Tonight we’re parachuting in wet suits into shark infested waters.

    • ” Opioid Use Lower In States That Eased Marijuana Laws”
      April 2, 2018 [excerpts]

      Medical marijuana appears to have put a dent in the opioid abuse epidemic, according to two studies published Monday.

      The research suggests that some people turn to marijuana as a way to treat their pain, and by so doing, avoid more dangerous addictive drugs. The findings are the latest to lend support to the idea that some people are willing to substitute marijuana for opioids and other prescription drugs.

      The National Academy of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine says there’s good evidence that cannabis is effective at treating pain for some conditions. So Bradford and three colleagues — including his scientist daughter — decided to see whether people who can get easy access to medical marijuana are less likely to get prescription opioids. The answer, they report in JAMA Internal Medicine, is yes.

      “There are substantial reductions in opiate use” in states that have initiated dispensaries for medical marijuana, he says.”


    So who is the lobbyist on this? Seems to be a raft of bills in recent years after all. And plenty of them have Republican sponsors, but I wouldn’t want to upset the conclusions you jumped to without evidence….Big bucks should be producing a fat lobby contract for somebody!

  4. My conclusion? That the same Republicans who voted unanimously to kill Ebbin’s 2018 decriminalization bill to do the same in 2019?

    Evidence? You mean when all 9 Republicans on the Courts and Justice Committee voted to kill the bill while all six Democrats voted to take it to a vote? A matter of public record.

    As for the marijuana decriminalization / legalization bills sponsored by Republicans in Virginia … what you listed were expungement bills not decriminalization or legalization bills. Big difference.

    As for lobbyists – that’s a problem. You see, marijuana is still illegal at the federal level. So, all the really big money companies who might get behind this (cigarette companies, alcohol companies, even soda and candy companies) can’t participate in states where the weed is legal for fear of federal reprisals or federal prosecution. The start up companies who take their chances with the feds are too small and busy to mount an effective lobbying campaign … yet.

    And … as we know, until there’s big money in something along with big payouts to politicians in Virginia there’s not going to be much progress.

    However, there may be hope. Canada, proving their competence, legalized recreational marijuana at the federal level while leaving it up to the provinces to decide on specific regulations. Now the big companies have a western market where they can perfect their strategies and approaches to marijuana growing, distribution and sales. Perhaps success up north will be enough for them to ignore the fed risk and embolden them to start lobbying US state governments. Or, better yet … the federal government. Once the payola starts flowing the odds of success in Virginia will rise quickly.

  5. There is a wide range of drug use these days to include alcohol and legal prescription drugs – a fair number of which advise on the label to not operate machinery or drive a car while using.

    The problem we have is that we treat the use of SOME of them as criminal behavior while not do so with others with primarily three criteria:

    1. – driving while impaired
    2. – engaging in “harmful” behavior (not sure how to characterize this exactly but what the public thinks and how the laws work are not consistent.
    3. – the fact that some drugs are illegal and those who possess or distribute them are criminals.

    The problem is that we are truly arbitrary and capricious as to how we treat differing kinds of drug use and perhaps marijuana is the most glaring example on the sanction side and inappropriate use of prescription drugs given an almost total bye.

    Stopping people to search for drugs selectively targets folks as statistics confirm.

    It is “used” in an arbitrary way to detain then imprison folks who have done little more than someone taking opiods – illegal or prescription.

    And when we do this – we forever change someones resume for work and that ends up denying legitimate jobs and incentivizing more illegal behaviors and in the end – one parent families… and disruptive children.. and dependency on entitlements.

    We have more people in prison in this country as a percentage of our population than any other country in the world – including despot regimes and 3rd world countries – as a result of how we deal with drugs.

    Even law enforcement is now questioning this approach:

    Headline: ” Why is Virginia sending less than half the number of juveniles to state custody than it did a decade ago?”

    ” Virginia courts are committing less than half the number of juveniles to state custody each year than they did a decade ago, and fewer of those youths are entering state correctional centers, under a four-year effort to transform the juvenile justice system.”

  6. Pingback: Altria rumored to be in talks to buy Canadian cannabis company Cronos Group - Bacon's Rebellion

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