At the start of 2019, it looked like Virginia was finally ready to gain ground on the issue of cannabis legalization. On the agenda for the first legislative session were two bills to legalize and decriminalize cannabis. But the lawmaker who introduced them has admitted defeat. Virginia House Delegate Stephen Heretick, a Democrat representing the state’s 79th District, has vowed to continue the fight for adult-use legalization in Virginia. Meanwhile, other pro-legalization lawmakers are turning their attention to expanding access to the state’s legal medical cannabis products.
Pro-Legalization Lawmakers Keep the Pressure On in the Virginia House
Virginia House Delegates in favor of legalizing cannabis for adults have vowed to continue introducing adult-use bills. But so far, 2019’s reform efforts have failed to garner enough support to pass the Virginia legislature. Lawmakers have tried multiple approaches. Delegate Stephen Heretick’s HB 2371 aimed high, proposing to establish a regulated cultivation, distribution and retail industry. HB 2371 would have set broad personal limits for personal possession and use, including authorizations for home cultivation. It also proposed a “seed-to-sale” tracking system, a 15 percent tax rate and a public consumption ban.
Other proposals represented a smaller departure from the norm. HB 2079, for example, may have appeared more “pragmatic” for lawmakers hesitant to embrace full legalization. That bill would have decriminalized simple possession, reducing offenses to civil infractions carrying a $50 fee for first-timers.
Although House committees roundly rejected both bills, Virginia lawmakers almost unanimously passed an important bill for the state’s medical cannabis patients. The bill allows school nurses to administer authorized medical cannabis products to students on campus and at school events. It also protects students against disciplinary measures like suspension or expulsion for possessing THC-A or CBD oil.
Virginia Lawmaker’s Powerful Statement Cuts Through the Fog of Legalization Debates
In a powerful video statement posted to YouTube, Delegate Heretick expressed his frustration at Virginia lawmakers’ inability and unwillingness to pass meaningful marijuana reform. Delegate Heretick has been here before, a point he stressed in his statement: “Once again, the House Courts of Justice Committee has decided that it is not your decision or mine whether to use marijuana as we do alcohol and other substances.”
“Once again, the committee listened to the same outmoded, outdated stereotypes in opposition to this bill,” Heretick said in the video. Later on in the video, Heretick goes even further. He says adult-use cannabis is and remains “an issue about personal choice, not about public safety or any of those other things we hear so much about.”
Heretick’s words fly in the face of many of the most common points of contention and compromise in debates about legalization. Advocates of legalization and decriminalization argue that a regulated industry improves public safety. On the other hand, opponents of marijuana reform view legalization as a grave threat to public safety. But Heretick sweeps those debates to the side, arguing that cannabis use comes down to the simple question of individual liberty.
Heretick’s blunt rhetoric was matched by the speed with which Virginia House committees rejected his bills. And November’s upcoming election could be a reason why. Despite growing public support for adult-use legalization, and a wide majority supporting medical use, some Delegates may feel that vocal support for full legalization could hurt their chances for re-election.