Virginia’s 2018 Marijuana Decriminalization Bill: What Happened and What’s Next?

Up in smoke.  During the 2018 General Assembly session a bill to decriminalize marijuana was killed in committee.  The Senate Courts of Justice Committee voted along party lines on that bill, SB 111. All nine Republican Senators on the Committee voted to keep marijuana possession (in any amount) a criminal act in Virginia while all six Democratic Senators voted to decriminalize pot.  To be clear – the vote was to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana, it was not a bill that proposed legalizing marijuana.

Here today, here tomorrow.  Decriminalization foes won the SB111 battle in 2018 but the war goes on.  The lines are drawn for the next skirmish.  As Sen Mark Obenshain (R-Rockingham), who voted against decriminalization, said … “It’s an issue that isn’t going away.  We’re going to be talking about it for a long time.”  That’s an interesting comment from a prohibitionist.  One can only hope that Sen Obenshain knows that time and further dialog are both working against him and his fellow pot prosecutors.  If he doesn’t understand that I’d really like to ask him what he’s been smoking.

Abby Hoffman vs Barney Fife.  The main support for decriminalization comes from the ACLU with a supporting cast of politicians including U.S. Senator Tim Kaine (federal decriminalization), Governor Ralph Northam (a medical doctor) and Adam Ebbin  (D-Alexandria).  Opposition is led by the Virginia Association of Commonwealth’s Attorneys with political support from the aforementioned Sen. Mark Obenshain (R-Rockingham).

Arrested development.  Subsequent to the committee vote on decriminalization, statistics were released that revealed arrests for marijuana possession in Virginia shot up in 2017, increasing by 20% over 2016.  Apparently, prosecuting Virginians for possession of a plant is a large and fast growing business in the Commonwealth.  One can only guess how much criminalizing marijuana costs Virginia or how many Commonwealth’s Attorneys have jobs based on pot possession being a crime.

Oh wow … what’s a voter … man?  A poll on the question of decriminalizing possession of small amounts of marijuana in Virginia was published in the midst of the 2018 General Assembly session.  Conducted by the Watson Center for Public Policy and Christopher Newport University, the poll found that 76% of Virginians favored decriminalization.  And the Republican politicians in Virginia keep wondering why they are continually losing their power and influence in Virginia.  Perhaps they would be well advised to just roll that number around in their heads for a while … seventy-six percent.

Heroes.  Senators voting for decriminalization of small amounts of marijuana: Creigh Deeds, D-Bath; John Edwards, D-Roanoke; Janet Howell, D-Fairfax; Louise Lucas, D-Portsmouth; Chap Petersen, D-Fairfax City; and Dick Saslaw, D-Fairfax.

Zeroes.  Senators voting against decriminalization: Ben Chafin, R-Russell; Ryan McDougle, R-Hanover; Tommy Norment, R-Mars; Mark Obenshain, R-Rockingham; Mark Peake, R-Lynchburg; Bryce Reeves, R-Spotsylvania; Bill Stanley, R-Franklin County; Richard Stuart, R-Stafford; and Glen Sturtevant, R-Richmond.

2019.  2019 is an election year for Virginia’s state legislature.  Democrats will push another marijuana decriminalization bill in the 2019 General Assembly session.  Then they will beat the Republicans who opposed the bill over the head with those votes in November.

— Don Rippert.

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12 responses to “Virginia’s 2018 Marijuana Decriminalization Bill: What Happened and What’s Next?

  1. Oh, we’ll all chip in and buy you a rail pass for Canada and you can go toke up to your heart’s content.

    • LOL. I only have to get to DC to legally grow my own, Maryland to avoid criminal penalties or Massachusetts to buy the stuff legally.

      In fact, space considerations prevented me from delving further into the reasons that marijuana arrests are up so much in Virginia. People (myself included) are guessing that the decriminalization and legalization trends have people forgetting they have the stuff (in their car for example) and just assuming they’ll get a ticket if caught. People in Virginia are more brazen with regard to pot use – whether consciously or unconsciously.

  2. Looks like Fairfax is for Stoners…new slogan.

  3. Virginia is for (Pot) Lovers.

  4. Somehow, I always had perceived Don Rippert as more a “law and order” guy but a thoughtful one so this feels a little “wild”. And sounds like there are not many all-in “recruits” with some of the regulars on BR.

    I’m no advocate for unfettered drug use but I also think the uneven way we treat it by our criminal justice system that focuses on the poor, more visible purveyors that get ruined for life at great expense to all taxpayers is just plain fiscally dumb and dumb in other ways that separates families who end up as one parent families with kids who much harder and expensive to educate – to the point where they too end up on the street dealing drugs to make a living. Meanwhile those of better economic and education resources also abuse drugs but end up with very different treatment by the very same criminal justice system. Just compare how black kids on the street selling crack cocaine get treated compared to those who are dealing opioids.

    • I am in agreement with DJ’s views and don’t consider it a wild proposal.

    • Larry, I believe government has a number of well defined roles. Among those roles are providing for the national defense and protecting the rights of Americans to own private property. I see regulations against the ownership of a plant, in contradiction to the wishes of most Americans, to be horrendous overreach. The fact that it costs a fortune to wage this unnecessary and futile war against grass only adds to my list of reasons to want to see marijuana possession decriminalized.

  5. DJ asks, “how much criminalizing marijuana costs Virginia.” The answer is $81.2M in 2016 according to Cato’s calculations. With the drastic increase in 2017 arrests, that puts the Commonwealth on track for over $100M spent on marijuana prohibition.

    Senator Adam Ebbin has prefiled SB997 for the 2019 General Assembly, similar to last session’s SB111.

  6. Time, and demographic change, are relentless.

  7. I wish we could begin by totally decriminalizing industrial hemp and remove the many obstacles to growing it and using it in Virginia. Even though it is still listed as a Schedule 1 drug (complete nonsense) many states have gone much farther than Virginia in cultivating it and developing various processing industries.

    This could add to our agricultural output and create many new industries in Virginia. Doing so would increase employment, tax contributions and improve our health and welfare.

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