Will Virginia Legalize Recreational Marijuana Use?

High times today.  The marijuana legalization wave is beginning to wash over North America. Nine states (WA, OR, CA, NV, CO, MA, VT, ME and AK) along with the District of Columbia have legalized the recreational use of marijuana.  Well over 20% of Americans now live in states which have legalized recreational marijuana use. On Oct 17 of this year recreational marijuana use will be legalized across Canada. While the various provinces will regulate the sale and use of marijuana in their own unique ways, it will be legal across Canada.

Higher times to come. Several more states are slated to decide the question of legalized recreational marijuana use this November (or sooner)…

Michigan – Voter initiated measure to permit those over 21 to grow and possess personal use quantities of cannabis and related concentrates.  Statewide polling data from this spring shows 61% of voters intend to vote “yes” on the measure. While you may not be able to drink the water in Flint it looks like you’ll be legally able to use it in a bong come this November.

New Jersey – The New Jersey legislature is debating bills that would legalize recreational marijuana in the Garden State. Interestingly, some of these bills would also expunge the criminal records of anybody convicted in the past of marijuana-related crimes. Was I ever arrested for weed?  Fuhghetaboutit!

North Dakota – A voter – initiated referendum will appear on North Dakota ballots this November. Uniquely, the North Dakota initiative would set no limits on the amount of marijuana people can possess or cultivate. Perhaps a large stockpile is required to get through those long, dark winters.

New York – A recent state commissioned study on recreational marijuana legalization came out strongly in favor of making ganja legal. Gov Andrew Cuomo quickly sprang to action setting up a working group to write a marijuana legalization bill. Put New York in the “when, not if” column.  This should give new meaning to Billy Joel’s song “New York State of Mind” (which has the opening line, “Take a holiday from the neighborhood”).

Oklahoma – This June Oklahoma voters approved a broad medical marijuana usage law. Activists have collected a lot of signatures to get the question of legalized recreational marijuana on the Nov 6 ballot. Whether there are enough signatures or enough time to get the ballot question approved this year remains to be seen. Sadly, Merle Haggard died in 2016 before being able to revise the first line of his famous song Okie from Muskogee … “We don’t smoke marijuana in Muskogee”.  It seems that sooner, rather than later, people will be openly smoking marijuana in Muskogee.

Delaware – In June, a majority of House lawmakers voted in favor of legislation to legalize marijuana use and retail sales. However, because the legislation imposed new taxes and fees, state rules required it to receive super-majority support. Lawmakers are anticipated to take up similar legislation again next year. I’ll predict that by 2020 people will be legally getting small in the Small Wonder.

A spot of hemp, Mr. Jefferson? Five of the first six presidents of the U.S. were Virginians and there is evidence that all five of them smoked a little hootch from time to time. You can read the evidence from an unimpeachable source … High Times …  here.

Will River City go up in smoke? But what of modern Virginians and Virginia politicians? In a 2017 Quinnipiac poll Virginia voters supported allowing adults to legally posses and use small amounts of marijuana by 59 – 35 percent. So, the voters would like to see marijuana legalized in Virginia. But since when did the voters matter to Virginia’s political elite? They don’t listen to voters, they listen to dollars. The Virginia Public Access Project tallies up the following donation totals for “all years”:

Beverages – Alcohol Distributors / Brokers – $20,885,384
Retail Sales – General $10,113,070
Restaurants – $6,533,357
Beverages – Alcohol Manufacturers – $3,993,418

As point of reference, Dominion Energy donated $11,354,842 during the same period.  Meanwhile, PepsiCo, owner of Frito-Lay – the maker of Cheetos – only donated $82,385.

— Don Rippert

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22 responses to “Will Virginia Legalize Recreational Marijuana Use?

  1. Jim has written and posted today one of the most thought provoking articles in his long and storied career. It’s titled US News Adds Another Perverse Incentive. While I struggle to craft a response worthy of Jim last Article, I must also confront another issue that has been gnawing away at my conscience since my undergraduate years at the University of Virginia.

    Yes, it is true, Rippert has struck at an very tender nerve, namely why is it so that in Virginia the politicians get the following skewed donations:

    Beverages – Alcohol Distributors / Brokers – $20,885,384

    Retail Sales – General $10,113,070

    Restaurants – $6,533,357

    Beverages – Alcohol Manufacturers – $3,993,418

    Another words, why is the richest guy in all towns in Virginia always the local beer distributor? How is that achieved?

    How is that going to play with legalized “weed” in Virginia now?

    What does this all say about Virginians and their political class?

    • Beer and wine distribution is a classic case of crony capitalism. In most states it is illegal for a retailer to purchase beer or wine directly from the brewery or the winery. Instead, it has to be purchased through a distributor. Why? I have no idea. Why shouldn’t retailers have the choice of either buying from a distributor or directly from the brewery / winery? The same is true for automobiles. A buyer can’t buy direct from the manufacturer. It has to be through a dealer. Why? Again, I have no idea. However, being a legally mandated middleman is quite a nice job. As you say … the richest guy in all towns.

      In a move Virginia should consider Washington State privatized liquor sales and then eliminated the requirement that retailers buy from distributors. Read the following article for a generalized view –

      http://www.seattleweekly.com/food/washington-wineries-are-boldly-adopting-self-distribution/

      So, in order to maintain a ridiculous crony capitalist lock-in the distributors have historically expended great sums of money on our political class. Never did they realize that, one day, all that spending might help them stave off the will of the people by slowing or stopping marijuana legalization. Because if marijuana is legalized for recreational use that’s a direct competitor to booze.

      Meanwhile, our hopeless lax reporting laws allow our politicians to spend the unlimited contributions they receive ion anything and everything. Easy to see why they are such good boys and girls and when it comes to supporting the booze lobby.

      Disgraceful.

      • My fear is not that those donations would stave off legalization but rather are intended to achieve and would facilitate steering the regulation of legalized pot along the same lines as alcohol, with layers of retail retrictions, regulated and limited wholesale distribution, difficult to get (without political connections) retail licenses, and perhaps even that separate police force. It’s so much easier to draw parallels with alcohol and structure things accordingly, and corrupt Virginia politicians of the Imperial Clown Show variety already know just how to extract their take that way. . . . . More below.

      • Yes, it’s about protecting the so-called “three tier system” which requires distributors with protected territories standing between the manufacturer and the customer (speaking as the former lobbyist for the wine wholesalers and the friend of their main lobbyist, one of the best in Richmond.) It goes back to post-Prohibition.

        • There might have been a good reason in the aftermath of prohibition. I imagine bars were perfectly happy to keep buying from bootleggers who didn’t pay any taxes. So, the state took over liquor and distributors took over wine and beer. But is bootlegging (especially of wine and beer) really an issue these days? I’ve heard that the three tier system adds 15% to the price of a new car and 30% to the price of wine and beer. A hidden tax for nothing in my opinion.

      • djrippert –

        You are a wise man. There should be a mandatory course taught in all Virginia colleges, namely

        “How To Get Rich in Virginia the Surefire Easy Way: Studies in Opportunities in Crony Capitalism in the Commonwealth!”

        You too djrippert should give us a full course here on Bacon’s Rebellion. I bet the ways and opportunities run up into the hundreds.

        • I’m sure Steve Haner forgets more about this stuff than I’ll ever know. I just sit in the hinterlands seething about the endless games being played down in Richmond. However, I have recently applied to be a wine distributor, beer distributor, Toyota dealer and I’ll be running for state Representative in 2019.

          • Reed Fawell 3rd

            DJ

            I stand in awe of your political acumen, and your selfless sacrifice on behalf of all citizens of the Commonwealth. Where can I drop off my bundle of stash … and by the way might you find a way to (see list delivered by private courier marked CONFIDENTIAL, FOR DJ).

          • I can be your lobbyist or your campaign manager (or both…). Stay away from Twitter.

  2. I’m of the view that the entire drug policy needs to be re-examined. About half or more of incarcerated folks are there because of drugs…

    Yes… we’re all atwitter about “legalization” of marijuana but we still have millions of people in prison and still going to prison over other drugs.

    I’m not arguing for legalization of any/all drugs – but I think we need a more rational approach so that our laws don’t have such a disparate impact on the poor and minorities. We seem to want to lower the penalties for drugs the middle and upper class favor and continue to hammer those in the lower classes over the drugs they prefer.

    The opioid problem is a clear example of that.
    It’s as bad or worse than crack cocaine but we say we need to “understand and help” those with opioid problems.. cocaine on the other hand – throw their sorry butts in prison and lock up the key!

    • The entire drug policy is a mess and needs to be re-engineered. The war on drugs has been lost. I’m open to rehabilitation of all non-violent drug users, even the coke heads. However, repeated offenses might require extended drug rehabilitation while incarcerated.

  3. Agreed, the entire drug policy is a mess. Legalization is not an option for prescription drug abuse, but that’s where the far-greater problem lies in Virginia today.

    As for those obscene donations to the alcohol distributors lobby, we have to assume that legal weed offers the same opportunities for business opportunities made available only to those with political clout and connections bought with the appropriate donations. Like certificate of need laws, there is a huge opportunity for the State (inadvertently or deliberately) to create a windfall for perpetual legislative and agency pork regarding the dispensing and rationing of licenses to grow, store and sell weed, the criteria for policing of abusers, and the criteria for labeling and quality control, the agricultural rules, and nearly every other aspect you can think of for the State regulating a legalized addictive drug that the federal government abstains from regulating. I only hope, if the GA in its (newly boosted, soon to be Democrat-majority) wisdom tackles legalization in Virginia, we take a hard look at the states out West and not at such perennial pay-to-play neighbors as Maryland for examples to follow.

    • I haven’t made an in-depth study of how the states out west do things but I get the sense that Washington State is pretty buttoned down. They seem to be grinding down most of the more ridiculous crony capitalist structures.

    • Acbar draws a wonderful portrait of how corrupt politicians build their own private playground out of products that addict their citizens, a LEVIATHAN STATE that our masters design and build so they can milk that state daily for their private advantage and for the advantage of their cronies in return for the illicit exchange of flavors of public property opened up for private looting. We fools call it a democracy, blind sheep that we all are.

  4. https://www.richmond.com/ap/national/million-u-s-teens-are-vaping-marijuana/article_9a1c5f98-3321-52c7-9918-0c9547564d37.html

    And now comes portable pocket bongs…..

    Oh, Acbar, you are so right about how legalized marijuana will feed political corruption….

    • Yeah but illegal marijuana feeds criminal corruption. At least the General Assembly seems content to legally steal from Virginians. They don’t seem willing to kill people over their territories of corruption. At least, I don’t think they do. But then again – with that crowd – who knows?

      As far as widespread pot use among teens – it’s easier to get than alcohol. Since pot is illegal dealers don’t really care how old you are – they’re breaking the law anyway. Bars have a license to lose and that means a real dent in the pocketbook. I believe that legalizing pot will make it harder for underaged kids to get it.

      • I agree, with both your points. Legalization brings a lot of pluses as well as minuses to the table, even for those opposed to it generally. Most importantly, the distribution is out in the daylight; the opportunities for corruption at the distribution level are less. Now, at the regulatory level, that’s a whole ‘nother matter!

  5. Don, you could tighten up (or undermine) your thesis (depending upon the answers) by answering two sets of questions.

    (1) Has legalization of pot in other states caused a reduction in alcohol sales? If so, you may be right, Virginia wine and beer distributors would have an incentive to block changes in Virginia marijuana laws.

    (2) Is there any evidence that Virginia wine and beer distributors have actually exercised any influence in the General Assembly on the issue of marijuana laws?

    • The article I wrote was already getting long when I decided to stop flying the plane around and land it. I’d like to continue writing articles on this matter. Your first question is “spot on”. It should be answered. The second question would require some inside baseball knowledge of what has been said and done outside of the formal legislative process in Richmond. Probably harder.

      There is also a substantial third issue – the role criminalized marijuana plays in Virginia’s incarceration rates and costs. I understand that Virginia pays a heavy cost to arrest, try, convict and incarcerate marijuana law violators. Pretty much of a waste of money in my opinion.

      Finally, in homage to the NFL kneelers, marijuana laws are often a pretext for the police to harass minorities. Maybe non-minorities too. A car that smells like marijuana according to the police officer who stopped it represents probable cause to search the car. I wonder how often a policeman declares that “this car reeks of weed” only to find no evidence of marijuana after searching the car.

    • Here’s at least a partial answer to #1 (source: https://www.forbes.com/sites/thomaspellechia/2018/01/22/alcohol-sales-dropped-15-percent-in-states-with-medical-marijuana-laws/#6e8f111b5f22 ), from a study released late last year. It’s probably not a complete answer, but tries to assess using a major source of those sales.
      ==============
      The research for this study made use of available Nielsen Retail Scanner alcohol sales data from 90 alcohol chain stores—grocery, convenience, drug, and mass distribution stores—from 2006-2015. They did it this way because they believed asking consumers does not provide reliable information, as many people simply don’t tell the absolute truth about their alcohol consumption habits.

      Using the 90-chain data, the study compared alcohol sales of states that do not have medical marijuana laws and states with medical marijuana laws (before and after the laws were implemented). The researchers also included demographics (age, race) as well as economics (income) for the study because those areas make a measurable impact on alcohol consumption.

      Over the ten years studied, counties located in medical marijuana states showed almost a 15 percent reduction in monthly alcohol sales.

      • I’m clueless about marijuana use. It seems possible, in theory, that people might like to get stoned and wasted at the same time.

        But I can’t say I’m surprised by the results of the study you cite. A lot of people drink wine or beer to chill out. If they get the same effect with marijuana… who needs to drink?

  6. I sure would like to see all DEA, Controlled substances, etc. oversight removed from hemp. We should be able to deal with hemp in the same way we do with planting carrots.

    That would bring a valuable crop back to Virginia and the other 50 states.

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