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Legalization

Legalization Prompting Review of Virginia Marijuana Laws

Photo by Nico Escondido

With the world all around him changing, a top Republican lawmaker in Virginia—who just happens to think that jail terms for cannabis possession are “absolutely crazy”—believes it may be time for the state’s marijuana laws to get with the times.

Sen. Thomas K. Norment, the state Senate’s majority leader, has asked the Virginia State Crime Commission to thoroughly examine the state’s marijuana laws in the context of “recent national developments,” according to the Daily Press.

Following cannabis’s historic showing on election day last month, adult-use marijuana is now legal or will soon be legal for all adults 21 and over in eight states. Another 26 states now have some medical-marijuana program, either approved by voters, or already enacted.

In this context, Norment wants the Virginia Crime Commission to weigh what’s going on in those states and review “the latest research on marijuana and its effects,” the Daily Press reported. (That shouldn’t take too long; as faithful readers are well-aware, federal prohibition has stymied deep dives into cannabis’s potential as medicine, though some studies recently underway may change that.)

Other topics on the agenda are the same issues states across the country are grappling with, including what to do about marijuana DUIs, the conflict between state and federal laws and what cannabis has to do with the country’s out-of-control opiate epidemic.

Virginia currently punishes marijuana possession as a misdemeanor, with maximum penalties of 30 days in jail and a $500 fine. Marijuana offenses have dropped by 14 percent in the past two years, according to the newspaper, and as an anti-legalization prosecutor pointed out, the state punishes underage possession of alcohol more severely than it does marijuana.

Following the review, the commission could then recommend changes to the state’s marijuana laws, but change will come slowly in Virginia, if at all.

It could take up to a year for the Crime Commission to return with recommendations—if the commission agrees by majority vote to take up the issue at all. As it happens, the commission’s chair, Del. Robert Bell, is a staunch opponent of legalization, the Daily Press reported.

And if the commission does come back with demands for a sea-change in marijuana policy in the state, it’ll be up to lawmakers to make it happen.

Though Virginia is a blue state and many residents of northern Virginia work in Washington, D.C., where the drug is legal, cannabis doesn’t appear to be a top priority for most lawmakers.

Indeed, Norment himself voted against a decriminalization bill last year. This is the same Norment who declared, “it’s absolutely crazy that we continue to lock people up for possession of a modest amount of marijuana.”

And Norment says he’s against legalization, which means the best friends in high places marijuana has in the state aren’t exactly friends.

You can keep up with all of HIGH TIMES’ marijuana news right here.

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