With decriminalization up for discussion, your opinion on Virginia marijuana laws matters! You have until August 25 to make your voice heard.

At the request of legislators, the Virginia State Crime Commission is conducting a study on Virginia marijuana laws; the study focuses specifically on assessing public opinion about the decriminalization of marijuana in the state of Virginia. The current discussion of decriminalization is primarily concerned with reducing the penalty for possession of minor amounts of marijuana from a misdemeanor charge to a civil fine.

To participate in the study, you can email any relevant information or material to vsccinfo@vscc.virginia.gov or send it via postal mail to:

Virginia State Crime Commission Patrick Henry Building 1111 East Broad Street Suite B036 Richmond, Virginia 23219

All responses should be submitted before August 25, at 5 p.m.

Support for Decriminalization

Delegate Robert B. Bell (R) requested the study in an official letter to the Virginia State Crime Commission in November of 2016. Eight months later, the study is ready for the responses of the citizens of the Commonwealth. According to Delegate Bell's letter, the responses of Virginians are just a small, but important, component of the study; Bell also requested that the study consider "the consequences experienced by any state that has" decriminalized or lessened marijuana possession penalties, as well as contemporary research on the effects of marijuana ingestion and intoxication. Advocates for decriminalization in Virginia are strongly urging supporters to send their comments to the state commission. Jenn Michelle Pedini, the executive director of Virginia NORML, the national organization for marijuana legalization, told the Richmond Times Dispatch that “Seventy-eight percent of Virginians support this type of reform.” [caption id="attachment_2417" align="aligncenter" width="610"]Virginia Marijuana Laws Graph courtesy of VCU's Center for Public Policy[/caption] That number came from a 2016 study conducted at the Center for Public Policy at Virginia Commonwealth University; the study revealed the following:
In line with changes in other states, the majority of Virginians (78%) support reducing the penalty for possession of small amounts of marijuana to a fine of $100 instead of a misdemeanor conviction. There were, however, demographic variations... Younger respondents (75%-82%) and those with incomes greater than $100,000 (86%) were more supportive of reduced sanctions. Political affiliation also had a slight impact on responses with Democrats (83%) being more favorable of reduced sanctions than Republicans (71%)."
Virginia's NORML chapter urged respondents to avoid diatribes in their comments to the commission. In an email to NORML members, the organization wrote the following instructions for responding:
What we do want is for you to include a brief personal account of how a marijuana possession charge has collaterally impacted yourself and/or your family: Did you lose your scholarship? Your job? Your housing? Your children? Have you had difficulty finding meaningful employment simply because you have a misdemeanor possession conviction?”
Essentially, NORML wants respondents to illustrate how, in the case of possession of minor amounts of marijuana, the punishment does not necessarily fit the crime. In June 2017, Governor Terry McAuliffe signed Senator David Marsden’s Senate bill 1027. The bill, in summary, permits the pharmaceutical manufacturing and prescribed use of cannabidiol oil and THC-A oil to treat intractable epilepsy. The passage of this bill officially makes Virginia a "medical state," but the law still has shortcomings. After all, Virginia is falling behind its neighboring states in progress on marijuana legislation. [caption id="attachment_2416" align="aligncenter" width="1024"]Virginia Marijuana Laws Governor McAuliffe signs the bill before a tearful group of families with children suffering from epilepsy who will now be given safe and legal access to a medicine proven to be effective.[/caption] In Maryland, medical marijuana has been legal since 2012, and decriminalization followed shortly thereafter in 2014. In the nation's capital, marijuana is legal for recreational use. Comparatively, Virginia marijuana laws have a long way to go to catch up, but hopefully your participation in the State Crime Commission's study can help speed things along!
What do you think about decriminalization of marijuana in Virginia? Let us know in the comments below.

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