The pattern followed by marijuana reform in America is so predictable you can use it to set a clock. In Virginia, where 85 percent of voters support medical cannabis, and where new Governor Ralph Northam supports decriminalization, a bill to allow sick people to access cannabis passed the state Senate before a deadlocked vote meant it died in the state House. In plainer language, Virginia lawmakers kill marijuana decriminalization bill. For another song in this same key, look to Congress, where a few powerful committee chairs are responsible for blocking federal marijuana reform from so much as having a hearing.
What Just Happened In Virginia?
What happened? Partisan politics?
“It’s definitely not a party issue,” insisted Nikki Narduzzi, a Republican who serves on the state’s chapter of NORML.
Oh, but it is.
On Monday, Virginia lawmakers had the opportunity to pass yet another popular marijuana reform measure—this one to decriminalize small amounts of cannabis. A few days after killing a similar bill, lawmakers voted along party lines to defeat an effort that would have made possession of marijuana a civil infraction rather than a misdemeanor. The vote: Nine Republicans against, and 6 Democrats in favor.
What happened? According to some, it appears someone got to Senate Majority Leader Tommy Norment, who previously cast himself as a “decriminalization supporter.” The Republican “flipped positions,” as per the paper after he discovered that a decriminalization bill wouldn’t make it out of committee.
Already in damage control, Norment tried to paint himself as a pragmatist—and anyone who wanted more (as in actual reform) as some kind of wide-eyed fanatic. “There are always those enthusiasts who want to lambaste you for having no guts,” he told the paper.
Final Hit: Virginia Lawmakers Kill Marijuana Decriminalization Bill
Publicly declaring you no longer favor a bill just because it’s going to lose is not a profile in courage. It’s more likely that Norment caved after hearing from the state organization representing prosecutors. The Virginia Association of Commonwealth’s Attorneys was an official opponent of decriminalization—which, if passed, would mean that the 133,256 people, most of them black, arrested for marijuana possession in the last decade might not be in the criminal justice system. But the prosecutors didn’t talk about that.
As per the paper:
David Ledbetter, Waynesboro commonwealth’s attorney, spoke on behalf of the prosecutors’ association. He said decriminalization would lead to more people driving while impaired by marijuana, would lead to increased use by adolescents and an increase of ingestion by toddlers.
These are the typical talking points, but please recall that marijuana legalization has not led to marked increases in any of these things. To posit that no longer arresting people for possession would lead to small children consuming mouthfuls of weed is absurd.
Norment has another bill, one that would allow first-time marijuana possession “offenders” to have their records expunged. No medical marijuana, no decriminalization—just a one-time-only opportunity to have an arrest wiped from your record. But you still have to get arrested.
According to Claire Guthrie Gastañaga, executive director of the Virginia ACLU, that’s a half-measure, the “illusion of progress.” At least we know who the magicians are.