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Law Virginia


Is there a VA thread? Finally some progress in one of the most backwards states. Not much but it is something. I was arrested and convicted for Possesion of Marijuana in October of 2015 and the whole ordeal put more stress and hardship on my kids and wife than me. I was able to get a restricted drivers license but still got ticketed when stopping at a chick fil a to get dinner for my family after my 2 hour drive at 8pm. My life was obviously already inconvenient (in good[3 kids under 7] and bad ways[working 9-10 hour days and commuting 2-5 hours]) enough without the license restrictions. With the restrictions my whole family felt like we were suffering. I fought to keep my license...even paid a laywer. I thought it was more important to not have to take drug tests as I knew I would fail them so I got out of the Alchohol and Substance Abuse Program which was a big plus. Now one could technically get away with POM in VA with a first time penalty of 30 days suspended time, community service, unsupervised probation and a $250-500 fine plus court costs. Sad to think that is the good news here but I know it would have made a hell of a difference to me.




There is now. :wink:

Sorry to hear about what you went through.
Its what makes us stronger right...!? So it did instill some instant Paronia epidemic in me that convinced me that concentrates would be a stealthy way to achieve medicating without a lingering smell that would follow me everywhere. Being high tolerance I was vaping 1/2 gram or more in one session in a vehicle with windows closed most of the time so the smell could and would follow me right after a session and my vehicle always reeked.
Switching to concentrates gave me the ability to become a microdoser as well as gain back a lot of vaping time to use towards family time or other things. It also helped a lot with paranoia because I only carry 6-8 dabs for the day as I only use about 4-6 on most days. I figure this is easy enough to make dissappear in comparison to the equally effective amount of flower which would be 2-3 grams...at least thats what I used to carry and consume on a daily basis. So yeah...theres my silver lining I guess. I really like concentrates now have a renewed passion for understanding marijuana and extracting techniques more.

Virginia Lawmakers Kill Marijuana Decriminalization Bill

Will Virginia ever have a sensible pot policy?

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.
"Let Virginia doctors recommend the use of cannabidiol oil or THC-A oil for the treatment of any diagnosed condition or disease."

I'm not sure I understand this....THC-A oil? So, if you decarb it now its THC? Just what does this bill legalize?

Medical marijuana bill passes Virginia Senate 40-0

RICHMOND – The Virginia Senate voted unanimously Monday to pass the Joint Commission on Health Care bill SB 726, which will let Virginia doctors recommend the use of cannabidiol oil or THC-A oil for the treatment of any diagnosed condition or disease.

This comes on the heels of Friday’s unanimous passing of the companion bill, HB 1251, in the Virginia House of Delegates.

“I finally decided that I needed to advocate for the physicians being the decision makers,” said Senator Siobhan Dunnavant, the chief patron of the Senate bill. “We, physicians, are the ones that follow the literature and know which treatments are best for different conditions. The literature on medical cannabis is going to be evolving rapidly now, and because of this, it is not a decision that should be in the hands of the legislature. Instead, it should be with physicians.”

Regular Virginians suffering from a variety of conditions — including cancer, Crohn's disease, and PTSD – have lobbied passionately for this reform.

Read about Staunton's Narduzzi: Pain over politics: How this Staunton Republican became an advocate for medical marijuana

"Honestly, until this week, I've always thought of it helping my patients that have breast cancer, especially the young ones that have children and have so many things to get done but feel so terrible as they go through chemotherapy,” said Senator Dunnavant, a doctor. “After this week, I won't be able to forget Tamra Netzel, the patient and my constituent with multiple sclerosis that testified on behalf of this bill in committee. My niece also has MS and having the opportunity to help others in similar situations means a lot to me."

'Let Doctors Decide'
Buy Photo
Del. Ben Cline, R-Rockbridge County, shares conversation with others attending the event. The Greater Augusta Regional Chamber of Commerce hosted an event allowing people to mingle and dine with elected officials, called Pig Picking & Politickin, at Augusta Expo on Monday, August 22, 2017. (Photo: Mike Tripp/The News Leader)

The chief patron of the House bill is Delegate Benjamin L. Cline. Staunton's Nikki Narduzzi, advocate for medical marijuana legalization in Virginia, approached Cline about the bill.

"What we really needed was a House patron that could get the bill out of the Criminal Law Subcommittee and carry it across the finish line," says Narduzzi. Cline held a position on the Joint Commission on Health Care and the Criminal Law Subcommittee.

More: Medical marijuana bill passes Va House subcommittee

"He voted in favor of our previous bills, had shown great compassion and respect for patients who shared their stories and was well-known for being respected by his Republican colleagues even though he was also known to speak up on positions that weren't always viewed favorably by his own party members," says Narduzzi. "He was the perfect advocate to have on our side."

"I met with Delegate Cline mid-December at the Starbucks in Staunton to present him with the hard ask... 'Would he patron a Let Doctors Decide bill that would allow all patients to access the same medical marijuana products that were available to epilepsy patients?' He was happy to agree and 'my fight' instantly got easier. I could never put into words just how meaningful his patronage and support was, especially at at time when I had very little (physically and emotionally) to give. I had burned my patient advocacy candle at both ends and was just barely hanging in there," says Narduzzi.

More: Nikki Narduzzi talks about her decision to use cannabis oil

“CBD/THC-A oil has been proven to effectively and safely help patients address symptoms of intractable epilepsy and manage pain,” said Delegate Cline. “By expanding the ability to recommend CBD/THC-A oil, we are giving doctors the freedom to make a recommendation based on the most up to date research and data, just as they do for any other medication they prescribe."

Jenn Michelle Pedini, executive director of Virginia NORML and a two-time cancer survivor herself, believes these bills will give countless suffering Virginians a chance to safely heal – right here in their home Commonwealth.


Executive director of Virginia NORML Jenn Michelle Pedini and Nikki Narduzzi at a cannabinoid medicine conference at Harvard Medical School in April 2017. (Photo: Liz McCall McCauley/Submitted)

"All Virginians deserve access to safe, regulated medical cannabis,” said Pedini. “These bills will ensure that Virginians have the ability to stay here at home with their families, with their support networks and not be forced to move to another state in the middle of a healthcare crisis to seek medical cannabis therapies.”

As the Commonwealth struggles with a worsening opioid crisis, this legislation offers a glimmer of hope.

“Medical cannabis laws have demonstrated significant impact on the opiate crisis,” said Pedini. “States with such laws see on average a 25% reduction in opioid fatalities. We are losing three Virginians every day to opioid overdose. It’s time to give doctors in the Commonwealth the ability to utilize this powerful tool in mitigating addiction and overdose.”

Read: Sentencing halts as Augusta County defendant accuses lawyer of sexual assault

Since the bills are identical, from here the steps are largely procedural: the bills will “crossover” to the opposite house for a vote, before heading to Governor Northam’s desk for signature.

Governor Ralph Northam, also a doctor, is already on record in support of Let Doctors Decide medical marijuana laws in the Commonwealth. Passage of this historic legislation would make Virginia the first state with a hyper-restrictive program to adopt such a broad expansion.

After today's win, Narduzzi is turning her attention away from policy reform to helping patients navigate the system and healthcare provider outreach services.

"Two very important components of implementing a successful medical cannabis program going forward," says Narduzzi.
District Extracts and many other DC commercial gifters and extractors seem to believe this just legalized all concentrate. It is a very broad bill/law supposedly that I plan to read tonight but I can kind of see what they are getting at. I love the leave it to the doctors part of this bill! Anyone know of a good doctor!
"Under the new law, patients will have access to cannabis oils containing the cannabinoids CBD and THC-A, neither of which creates the classic, intoxicating “high” traditionally associated with cannabis. Language in the law limits THC, the primary psychoactive component in cannabis, to concentrations of less than 5%."

So this is a bit more explanation but I wonder at THC-A being ok but not THC...I mean, don't we just have to heat it to decarb it and voila', THC?

Any Condition Is Now a Qualifying Condition in Virginia

The doors to Virginia’s medical cannabis system are now open.

Late last week, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam signed a bill into law that drastically expanded the state program, allowing patients to use cannabis oil to treat any diagnosed medical condition. Prior to the change, only patients with intractable epilepsy could use cannabis without fear of criminal penalties.

The move transforms Virginia from one of the country’s most exclusive medical cannabis states to one of the most accessible.

What Makes a Medical Cannabis Program Succeed?

The legislation signed Friday by the governor—passed as House Bill 1251 and Senate Bill 726—allows any physician to recommend cannabis treatment. (Under the previous law, only neurologists and epilepsy specialists could make such recommendations.) It also increases the amount of cannabis oil that patients can purchase from any of the state’s five approved producers.

Thanks to an emergency clause in the legislation, the law takes effect immediately.

“Those who suffer from intractable epilepsy have already seen the benefits of cannabidiol oil and how it can improve their quality of life,” one of the law’s chief backers, state Delegate Eileen Filler-Corn, told the local News Leader newspaper last month, after the legislation won overwhelming support in the House and Senate. “These bills,” she said, “will allow more Virginians to benefit from cannabidiol oil, as well.”

Under the new law, patients will have access to cannabis oils containing the cannabinoids CBD and THC-A, neither of which creates the classic, intoxicating “high” traditionally associated with cannabis. Language in the law limits THC, the primary psychoactive component in cannabis, to concentrations of less than 5%.

What Is THCA and What Are the Benefits of This Cannabinoid?

The new law also preserves the state’s prohibition of cannabis flower, edibles, and other cannabis products. Only oils are permitted.

While the rules appear designed to keep patients from getting high, cannabis experts note that individuals can easily convert non-intoxicating THC-A into active THC through a process known as decarboxylation—which involves, essentially, gentle heating.

The resulting product presumably wouldn’t be allowed under state law, as it would contain more than 5% THC. But ready access to THC-A oil could open the door to homemade products that some patients could find useful. After all, THC offers some medical effects—such as appetite stimulation, which can be helpful for patients undergoing chemotherapy—that can’t be obtained through THC-A or CBD.

What Is Decarboxylation, and Why Does Your Cannabis Need It?

It’s important to note that the state law does not technically legalize cannabis. Rather, it provides an affirmative defense for medical patients, effectively immunizing them against penalties for possession and consumption.

According to the News Leader, patients should take the following steps to minimize legal issues:

  • Print the Affirmative Defense Certificate.

  • Take it to your physician and ask your doctor to sign it.

  • Keep the signed certificate with your oil at all times.

  • Present your certificate if questioned by law enforcement.

  • If not accepted and charged with possession, call an attorney or ask for court-appointed counsel.

  • Present your signed certificate 10 days prior to trial as directed.
"The oils only contain a minimal amount of THC, pot's psychoactive compound, and Virginia law limits THC levels to 5 percent. THC-A, or tetrahydrocannabinol acid, only becomes THC when exposed to heat."

So, this still doesn't make sense to me. If THC is limited to 5%, what is the limit (if any) on THC-A which just needs a bit of heat to become THC? Its just not clear to me WTF Virginia actually legalized.

No, Virginia didn't legalize medical marijuana. But supporters say the state is going 'surprisingly far with cannabis oil

When Tamara Netzel decided to get up in front of Virginia lawmakers and talk about medical cannabis oil, she worried about a backlash.

She didn’t have to worry about derailing a career because her multiple sclerosis had already forced her into medical retirement from her former job as a teacher in Alexandria.

She wanted to explain that when she drops hemp-derived oil under her tongue a few times a day, the pain in her arms and hands turns to warmth, bringing relief she says she couldn’t get from a needle nerve block or other government-approved drugs.

Still, she felt uneasy about what people might think if she publicly associated herself with something linked to marijuana.

“I think there are people out there who know this helps,” said Netzel, a 48-year-old military wife and mother of two Eagle Scouts. “But they are afraid to speak out.”

There was no negative feedback. And there was virtually no opposition in the General Assembly to bipartisan legislation to expand access to cannabidiol (CBD) and THC-A oils, just as the state prepares to issue licenses for what will be Virginia's first dispensaries for medical cannabis products.

Within the next few weeks, the Virginia Board of Pharmacy will open a competitive application process for up to five cannabis-oil facilities, one for each of the state's five health regions.

The system will put Virginia among a handful of states in the Southeast with medical cannabis programs, though the restriction to oils will make it far less robust than the full-blown medical marijuana setups in states like California and Colorado.

With efforts to decriminalize possessing small amounts of marijuana gaining little traction in the legislature, legalized recreational marijuana doesn't seem imminent.

But supporters say the action on medical oils shows state lawmakers are getting more comfortable about moving away from a “hyper-restrictive” model and could go further in the next few years.

“Basically what we’re doing in Virginia is starting with the sickest patients and we're going to serve them first,” said Jenn Michelle Pedini, executive director of Virginia NORML, the state chapter of the National Organization to Reform Marijuana Laws.

Cannabis-derived oils are not approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, but proponents say they help relieve pain, inflammation, seizures, muscle spasms and nausea, without the high that comes with smoking or ingesting marijuana.

The oils only contain a minimal amount of THC, pot's psychoactive compound, and Virginia law limits THC levels to 5 percent. THC-A, or tetrahydrocannabinol acid, only becomes THC when exposed to heat.

Some health stores carry products marketed as CBD oil. But they're usually derived from hemp and, because they're unregulated, it's not entirely clear what's in them.

In 2015, the General Assembly passed a law creating an “affirmative defense” to possess cannabis oils for medical reasons, but it only applied to patients with severe epilepsy. This year, lawmakers expanded that protection by freeing doctors to recommend the oils for patients with cancer, Crohn’s disease or any other medical condition.

A recommendation from the state’s Joint Commission on Health Care, the policy change was presented as a way to let doctors decide who should have access to the oils, instead of lawmakers being asked to add new medical conditions one by one.

The bill passed the state Senate and House of Delegates unanimously. Because it had an emergency clause, Gov. Ralph Northam, a medical marijuana supporter, signed it into law on March 9.

"He thinks this is a positive step in the right direction that will help improve the lives of people who suffer from many conditions," said Northam spokesman Brian Coy. "But he hopes to continue working toward a broader legalization of medical marijuana."

It’s not clear how many people might take advantage of the easier access to CBD oil, but advocates estimate it could benefit 5 percent of the state’s population, or about 423,000 people.

The push for state-sanctioned medical cannabis oils began five years ago, when the parents of children with severe epilepsy began lobbying Virginia lawmakers for legal access to medicine they said their children needed.

Del. Eileen Filler-Corn, D-Fairfax, one of several lawmakers involved in the CBD-oil push, said the "parent warriors" and their personal stories had a major impact on legislators' attitudes.

"This is a huge deal," Filler-Corn said. "But honestly I think the credit all belongs to the families."

Several lawmakers said the gradual approach – starting with epilepsy and building on the law over several sessions – helped ease legislators' fears and gave the executive branch time to craft a detailed set of regulations.

"You build consensus in many ways by building confidence. And we have pushed the envelope surprisingly far,” said Sen. Siobhan S. Dunnavant, R-Henrico, an OB-GYN doctor who sponsored the Senate version of the 2018 bill.

Under the affirmative defense system, patients who register with the state can obtain a doctor-signed certificate that would theoretically serve as a get-out-of-jail-free card in case of legal trouble.

But with no way to get the oils from a state-sanctioned seller in Virginia, patients and their families have had to run the legal risk of getting them elsewhere and transporting them across state lines.

Policymakers have also taken steps to solve that problem.

In 2016, the General Assembly passed legislation to slowly establish a state-regulated system of "pharmaceutical processors" that could supply CBD oil to Virginia patients.

In preparation for inviting companies to compete for one of the five licenses, the pharmacy board crafted 24 pages of regulations that set rules for every stage of the CBD oil process.

The regulations range from dictating temperature and humidity settings for the rooms where cannabis plants will be grown to how to properly dispose of leftover oil (the guidelines say it should be mixed with something gross, like coffee grounds or kitty litter).

To ensure nothing goes missing, there are detailed security specifications for alarms and video cameras. Any employees working around cannabis have to wear clothes without pockets.

Before purchasing any oil, patients and their doctors have to register with the pharmacy board, and there are other safeguards to ensure the supply of oil is closely tracked. Patients will have to travel to a dispensary for their first transaction, but once they're in the system the oil can be delivered to them at home.

Caroline Juran, the executive director of the Board of Pharmacy, said the General Assembly's action to expand the patient population will require some additional work on the regulations, but won't delay the planned mid-April opening of the dispensary application process.

"It doesn't prevent us from moving forward," Juran said.

One medical cannabis entrepreneur predicted Virginia could get several dozen applicants for the five licenses.

Jake Bergmann, the founder and CEO of Atlanta-based Surterra Holdings, said his company, which was among the first to get medical cannabis licenses in Florida and Texas, is hoping to do the same in Virginia.

"We've been watching this for a while with some interest," Bergmann said.

Surterra has made political donations to Northam and former Gov. Terry McAuliffe and has retained lobbyists from Richmond-based McGuireWoods.

The company, which calls its stores "wellness centers," offers a variety of cannabis oils, patches, vape pens, lotions and sprays. Prices for Surterra oils vary, but they range from $85 to $270 for a 30-day supply.

A big part of Surterra's mission, Bergmann said, is educating people about what medical cannabis is.

"The most important part of the process for a new patient is they're going to have a lot of questions," Bergmann said.

One question on the mind of many medical marijuana advocates is where things will go from here. Future reforms could include expanding the program beyond oils to include patches and sprays, or raising the THC cap.

But lawmakers say they want to take time to see how the system works before expanding it.

Though Netzel has joined the push for reform, she said she's been a little frustrated by the slow pace.

When a friend first suggested CBD for her multiple sclerosis, she dismissed it as "snake oil." When she tried it and found that it worked, she was surprised and confused about why it's not fully legal.

Netzel said she's heard people say medical cannabis could hold the cure for MS. But if it continues to exist in a legal gray area, she said, she'll never know whether that's true because it won't be seriously researched.

"I want it regulated. I want to know what I'm getting," Netzel said. "And I want to know if it could be helpful to my disease."

While most of Virginia may be enjoying some good, old-fashioned reefer madness today, at least 22,000 people will be left out this year, paying fines and sitting in jail as decriminalization efforts have failed to take effect. Most of them are Black.

Sorry to bring down your high.

“[Decriminalization] is an urgent criminal justice and racial justice issue in Virginia that lawmakers should be taking more seriously,” said Bill Farrar, director of strategic communications at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

According to a study conducted by ACLU, 8.2 million arrests are made each year for marijuana possession, while people of color are 3.72 more likely to be arrested for possession. Farrar stated that in certain areas of Virginia, they are eight times as likely to be arrested. Those arrested are most often carrying less than an ounce of marijuana, yet have exorbitant fees and often spend time in jail. Currently, being caught with less than half an ounce is a misdemeanor, but anything over a half ounce is considered a felony.

“The commonwealth spends nearly three quarters of a billion dollars each year enforcing a law that dramatically and disparately entangles people of color in the criminal justice system, while neglecting to fund programs to help people with mental illness or directly address the growing opioid problem,” Farrar said.

This past General Assembly session, two senators presented bills with decriminalization efforts and both failed at the Courts of Justice committee level, meaning they never reached the floor for a general vote.

“It’s important to note that African-Americans only make up 20 percent of Virginia’s population yet are arrested three times more than whites for marijuana possession when use is equal between races,” said Jenn Michelle Pedini, executive director at Virginia NORML (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws) who assisted Senator Adam Ebbin in writing Senate Bill 111, which would decriminalize marijuana and reduce charges to a simple $50 fine on the first offense with subsequent fine increase to $100 and $250 for second and third offenses.

“You have to work with intent to suss out 20 percent of your population and target them three times more,” Pedini said. “That’s not unique, we see it play out throughout the country, and it’s not to say that law enforcement is inherently biased against African-Americans, or explicitly biased, more likely it is them exercising their implicit bias. This is how systemic oppression plays out in America.”

In addition to this systemic oppression, both Farrar and Pedini cited gross spending habits by the Virginia state government to continue arrests for marijuana possession. According to a study by the Drug Policy Alliance, Virginia spends $70 million annually on marijuana possession arrests and prosecutions alone.

“That is more than the Commonwealth has budgeted for the current fiscal year for statewide capital improvements to transportation and natural resources combined, and 14 percent more than the amount of general funds budgeted to support the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services – which deals with mental health and substance abuse treatment, among other things – for the entire 2016-18 biennium,” Senator Ebbin said in a statement to the General Assembly in February.

In 2016, many activists and politicians worked to find money for processing thousands of backlogged rape test kits and struggled to find it. “We didn’t have a few thousand dollars to see who had raped someone, then had to waste time and money arguing about how to find a couple million dollars to process those backlogged kits,” Pedini said. “Meanwhile, pot possession, which has little or no public safety impact, we have $70 million for.”

A portion of this spending is for programs like the Virginia Alcohol Safety Action Program (VASAP), a court-ordered addiction clinic. Twenty-one percent of those ordered to VASAP are there for marijuana possession, equal to the percent sent in for opioid and heroin.

“If we stopped this waste of taxpayer dollars and instead decriminalized, removed that six months to one year rehab requirement, you would immediately double access to treatment for opioid and heroin addiction,” Pedini said.

Senator Tommy Norment promised during his campaign to put forward a decriminalization bill as well, but later reduced it to an expungement bill. Both Farrar and Pedini were disappointed in this change, and Senator Ebbin openly objected to it on the Assembly floor.

“The members of these subcommittees are primarily prosecutors, and they’re not interested in passing legislation that limits or reduces their prosecutorial discretion,” Pedini said.

In a 2018 poll released by Virginia Commonwealth University, eight out of ten Virginians said they would prefer reducing the marijuana possession misdemeanor conviction to a fine and are in favor of reform.

“Virginians want us to decriminalize marijuana possession, not to create a new fish trap that doesn’t do anything to address the racial disparities in our current criminal justice system nor address the high costs of continuing to criminalize simple possession,” Senator Ebbin said.

Pedini and Farrar are hopeful that Senator Ebbin’s bill will pass in 2020 after the 2019 elections.

“We’re ruining people’s lives with this… We don’t need some tiny half step to pretend like that’s reform,” Pedini said. “We need real reform, and that’s decriminalization. This criminal charge is going to follow people for the rest of their lives, can lead to them losing their children, being evicted, losing their job, losing their scholarships.”
There is a video that couldn't be linked in the article. Follow the link in the title if you wish to view it.

Exclusive: Portsmouth CA says misdemeanor marijuana cases to be dismissed

PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) -- Portsmouth Commonwealth's Attorney Stephanie Morales says her office will no longer prosecute possession of marijuana cases in the Portsmouth General District Court.

In a letter Morales sent to the judges earlier this week, she says the policy change is effective immediately and that all cases would be dismissed with the payment of court costs.

Morales tells 10 On Your Side she started having conversations with judges in March, and they are on board with dismissing the charges.

"It's really important for us to think as a criminal justice system about why we are doing the things we are and the way were are doing them," Morales told 10 On Your Side's Jason Marks. "It is really time we think about how we start to decarcerate as opposed to incarcerating for every type of crime. This is one those cases we really don't have dangerous violent occurrences resulting from possession of marijuana."

Morales says unlike other jurisdictions, her staff prosecutes misdemeanor possession of marijuana cases. She tells 10 On Your Side it is time consuming and takes time away from cases which are more serious.

"We see marijuana charges come through frequently, however we do have more important things to address when we are talking about violent crimes such as homicides and things of that nature," Morales added. "We do have prosecutors who have very limited time. We have body cameras to watch and so resources are very important to think about. We have to balance crimes where people may be annoying us or we might not like the conduct versus crimes were people are really a threat and are dangerous and those prosecutions require a serious amount of time and direction"

Morales says she has 17 prosecutors on staff.

10 On Your Side asked Portsmouth interim Police Chief Angela Greene what she is now telling her officers to do in the field.

"The Portsmouth Police Department has and will continue to have an open dialogue with the Portsmouth Commonwealth Attorney, Mrs. Stephanie Morales, as well as the Judicial Officers who serve within the Portsmouth Court System," Greene said. "My officers will continue to make arrests and enforce the law as they do in all criminal matters. Once a case is brought before the courts for trial, it is up to the members of our judicial system (judges and prosecutors) to determine the appropriate penalties for the criminal offense. As we move forward and current criminal laws change, we will continue to do our due diligence as law enforcement officers to make arrests when applicable and continue working with our existing judicial partners to ensure we are providing increased safety and quality of life for the citizens we serve."

"I appreciate their courage," said local defense attorney Eric Korslund. "I think they are taking a bold stance on the issue of marijuana. I think the issue is obvious. I think it is a waste of tax payer money."

Though Korslund is in favor what Morales is doing he says he's not sure how the General Assembly will react.

"The Commonwealth's Attorney is part of the executive branch and they do not make the laws," Korslund added. "They are elected to enforce the laws and right now marijuana is still illegal."

"We do have prosecutorial discretion and often times prosecutors need to use that prosecutorial discretion for the right things," Morales said.

Norfolk Commonwealth's Attorney Greg Underwood announced in January his office would no longer prosecute simple marijuana possession cases appealed to the Norfolk Circuit Court. Unlike Portsmouth, Norfolk prosecutors only got involved in misdemeanor marijuana cases after convictions in General District Court were appealed to the circuit court.

READ: March Letter from Underwood to Judges

A Norfolk judge ruled against Underwood's directive in January, denying a prosecutor's motion to drop charges against a man charged with possession of marijuana.

10 On Your Side called Virginia Beach to see whether Commonwealth's Attorney Colin Stolle has any plans to follow Norfolk and Portsmouth's lead.

“The General Assembly makes the laws," Stolle said. "It is my responsibility as the elected commonwealth’s attorney to prosecute violations of the laws that the General Assembly passes. It is inappropriate for a prosecutor to essentially create their own set of laws in their jurisdictions. The proper place to address this issue is with the legislature.”

Morales says court costs are typically $165. Pro-marijuana legalization organizations such as Virginia NORML applaud what Morales is doing.

"Eight out of ten Virginians favor fines not crimes for simple marijuana possession," Virginia NORML Executive Director Jenn Michelle Pedini said. "It's encouraging to see municipalities taking action in the absence of legislative progress from Richmond. We look forward to these municipalities including decriminalization in their legislative priories and joining us in the General Assembly to lobby for the substantive marijuana policy reforms Virginians demand."
The reason why they only have 900 people registered in VA is because its a POS sham program intended more to cover politician's asses than help patients.

Virginia’s medical marijuana program clouded by confusion

Virginia’s first five medical marijuana facilities are set to open by the end of the year, but only 600 people have registered for the program so far. Advocates are reporting confusion about how the program works.

Madison Davis is one of those early signups. Davis was five years old when she was diagnosed with a rare type of brain cancer called ependymoma. Her parents turned to cannabis as a way to help prevent Madison from having seizures.

Madison’s mother, Melanie Davis, believes it does much more than that. She says cannabis is what allows her daughter to keep up a busy schedule of ballet, swimming and school.

“You won't convince us that that's not the reason why she is still herself today,” Davis said in an interview in May.

Right now, the Davis’ are forced to buy Madison’s cannabis oils out of state. But soon they’ll be able to get it at a so-called processor that’s set to open in Portsmouth, not far from their home in Hampton. That facility -- and four others in Richmond, Bristol, Staunton and Massass -- will grow, process and sell medical cannabis products to approved patients.

The facilities are set to make their first sales in early spring, a few months after planting and processing their first marijuana crop. But it hasn’t always been smooth sailing, and Melanie Davis is getting impatient.

“It would be nice if it was [open] in time to benefit Madison, you know?” Davis said.


Madison Davis works on math problems with her tutor at her home in Hampton. She's been taking marijuana products for over two years to help manage treatments from a rare form of brain cancer. (Photo: Ben Paviour/WCVE)

How It Works
Medical marijuana still isn’t legal in Virginia. Instead, patients register with the Virginia Board of Pharmacy for what’s known as an affirmative defense -- a kind of doctor’s note certifying to police that a patient can carry products sold at the processors.

Current law allows approved doctors to register patients for any condition they see fit.

Once patients have the registration, they can visit a processor. Those facilities won’t sell the cannabis plant itself. Instead, they’ll have oils, pills and creams. Some of them will contain THC -- the compound in cannabis that makes you high, and that is used in combination with CBD to treat medical conditions. An onsite pharmacist will prescribe the drugs.

Registration Woes
Melanie Davis said Madison’s doctor had some technical problems with an emailed form sent by the state, and they’re not the only ones who’ve had trouble navigating the new program.

Jenn Michelle Pedini heads the marijuana advocacy group Virginia NORML. In a recent interview, she estimated that she gets eight to 10 calls a day from people trying to figure out how to register. Some struggle to make sense of Board of Pharmacy’s website, which Pedini says speaks in the dense language of policymakers rather than everyday people.

“There's definitely a lack of educational resources available to healthcare providers and to patients,” Pedini said.

Pedini said Virginia NORML is trying to fill in the gaps, providing patients with instructions on how to navigate the state’s bureaucratic registration process on their website.

Doctors should also be given more guidance, according to Travis Shaw, a Richmond-area plastic surgeon who has informally advised physicians on the new program. Shaw said most doctors aren’t taught much of anything about cannabis in medical school.

“If physicians are going to be recommending this, they need to have some guidelines in place,” Shaw said.

A spokesperson for the Board of Pharmacy said the board had no plans to introduce more specific rules beyond the language in the law or to change its website.

Hemp vs. Marijuana
The state’s reliance on technical terms like “THC-A oil” can also be a barrier. Many people now recognize cannabidiol, or CBD, a compound found in both legal hemp and illegal marijuana. The hemp version is now available at gas stations and grocers across the state. The marijuana version will be sold by processors alongside products containing THC.

Processors worry that those corner store CBD gummies confuse potential customers, and possibly endanger their health.

Aaron Lopez, a consultant and lobbyist for the Manassas-based processor Dalitso, said his company and the four other firms would like to see hemp CBD products face the same testing they’re required to do for marijuana-based medicines.

“We're afraid that a patient might go out and say, ‘Well, why do I need to wait for the processors to be up and ready when I can go to a local pharmacy or a local mom and pop shop and pull it off the shelf and start taking it?’” Lopez said.

“The problem is that that bottle or that product is unregulated,” he said. “We don't know exactly what's in it. We don’t know if it’s subpotent, and we don’t know if it’s being tested for heavy metals.”

The Food and Drug Administration is in the process of drafting regulations on hemp CBD.


Five processors will open across Virginia by the end of the year. They'll begin selling product in spring, after harvesting and processing their first crops. (Graphic: Virginia NORML)

Supply Crunch
While signups have been slow so far, advocates like Jenn Michelle Pedini think Virginia will eventually need more facilities to avoid supply shortages that have occurred in other states.

One case study is Arizona, which has about $1.4 million fewer people than Virginia and a medical marijuana program that its statehouse approved in 2010. Authorities there have granted licenses to 130 dispensaries and 193,000 people as of March, according to a recent report in the Arizona Republic.

“Now, the million dollar question is when will we get more?” Pedini said of the processors. “And that's really up to Virginians and who they elect to represent them in the General Assembly.”

The GOP-controlled legislature has signaled they want to take a wait-and-see approach. It’s one favored by Lopez and the other processors, who want to recoup their substantial investments.

But some of the 46 companies that weren’t chosen the first time say the process lacked transparency and they want a crack at what is likely to be a big market. They’re pressing lawmakers to allow more facilities, pointing out that patients could face long drives if the five processors are the only options.

They may find a more receptive audience in Democrats, who have traditionally been more friendly to loosening marijuana regulations, and who are just a few seats shy of controlling the chamber.

Even those who are frustrated with some parts the program concede that change has come quickly from the state’s first tentative foray into marijuana treatments for epilepsy in 2015.

“There has been remarkable change in really a very short period of time,” said Melanie Davis. She’s found a little silver lining in her daughter’s illness.

“I would never say lucky to be sick, but she's lucky that we're at a time right now where there is a huge push for cancer research, for pediatric cancer research and for cannabis reform,” Davis said. “I think all of those things are helping her every day right now.”
New Virginia Marijuana Laws Take Effect July 1


Richmond, Va — Three new laws intended to expand patient access to and the therapeutic value of Virginia’s medical cannabis program take effect July 1, 2019.

“Patient access is critical to the success of Virginia’s medical cannabis program,” said Jenn Michelle Pedini, executive director of Virginia NORML. “These bills help ensure that all patients are able to obtain and use the necessary therapeutic doses of their cannabis medicines regardless of location or physical ability.”


Virginia medical cannabis patients can now look forward to a greater range of products available in full therapeutic strengths thanks to Senator Dunnavant’s SB1557. Previously, Virginia’s five licensed medical cannabis providers, called pharmaceutical processors, would have been limited to dispensing only oils when they open their doors later this year. Now, patients can expect to see products typical of compounding pharmacies, like capsules, topicals, lozenges, lollipops, and suppositories, with an allowance of up to 10 milligrams of THC each.

“The historic passage of my Let Doctors Decide bill in 2018 allows practitioners to recommend medical cannabis for their patients as they see fit,” said Senator Dunnavant, a medical doctor from Henrico. “This year, my focus was on program improvements to further expand both access and therapeutic value to benefit the health and well-being of all Virginians."

SB1557 also allows nurse practitioners and physician assistants to register with the Board of Pharmacy to issue the necessary written certifications for medical cannabis to patients.


Senator Marsden’s SB1719 adds "registered agents” for those patients physically unable to pick up or receive delivery of their medical cannabis, like those in hospice, assisted living facilities, and those who rely on home healthcare providers. SB1719 ensures that patients will have greater access to the medicines they need, a key element of continuity needed for the success of any health system.

It is patients like Tamara Lyn Netzel, a teacher from Alexandria who suffers from multiple sclerosis, who stand to benefit from this legislation.

“Multiple sclerosis is a degenerative disease with severe symptoms that come and go, so I’ve accepted at some point I may not be able to drive a car safely or leave my home," said Netzel. "It is comforting to know I will still be able to send my husband to get the medicine I need."

"We continue to tweak the law regarding cannabis oils. This year, we created the ability for registered agents to receive the medicine in the name of the patient as many people are disabled and unable to come to the door to receive a delivery. We will continue to make use of these oils more user-friendly now that members of the General Assembly are confident in the safety of these products,” said Senator Marsden, of Fairfax County.


Companion bills by Delegate Chris Hurst, HB1720, and Senator Glen Sturtevant, SB1632, aren’t just progressive for Virginia, they’re progressive for the nation. Today, Virginia becomes the fourth state to allow school healthcare providers to administer medical cannabis to registered student patients just as they would any other medication.

“Virginia is moving in the right direction to ensure patients and doctors can choose treatments that are right for them. I’m proud that HB1720 will allow students on campus to legally and safely access their medication” said Delegate Hurst of District 12.

Virginia NORML has worked diligently alongside these legislators in their continued efforts to advance patient-focused medical cannabis policies.

“These common sense clarifications to the regulations will make for a smoother system, and better outcomes for patients, providers, and the community at large,” Pedini said of their success in the 2019 General Assembly.
hahaha...I was about to post this article but you beat me to the punch, @momofthegoons LOL

Now, as to this:

"Now, patients can expect to see products typical of compounding pharmacies, like capsules, topicals, lozenges, lollipops, and suppositories, with an allowance of up to 10 milligrams of THC each.

While this is better than what was before, please excuse me if I don't jump on the congratulatory bandwagon for VA Sen Siobhan Dunnavant who crafted and pushed this bill.

10 mg max....so, I'd have to shove 10 suppositories up my arse on a daily basis? hahaha Maybe I should just shove the lollipops up there? Hmmm?

VA's med program continues, IMO, to be a joke more intended to cover politicians asses than to benefit patients.
Marijuana arrests in Va. reach highest level in at least 20 years, spurring calls for reform

Marijuana arrests in Virginia hit their highest levels in at least 20 years in 2018, a climb that has sparked calls for overhauls and bucked trends in a number of other states that have moved toward decriminalizing the drug.

Nearly 29,000 arrests were made for marijuana offenses in Virginia last year, a number that has tripled since 1999, according to an annual crime report compiled by the Virginia State Police.

Marijuana busts account for nearly 60 percent of drug arrests across Virginia and more than half of them were among people who were under 24, according to the data. The vast majority of cases involved simple possession of marijuana.

The forces driving the increase in enforcement are not well studied, but the spike has renewed calls to decriminalize marijuana by some lawmakers and Attorney General Mark Herring (D), who generated headlines last month when he became the state’s highest official to call for legalizing marijuana for recreational use.

“The numbers are staggering,” Herring said. “An arrest and conviction like this stays with someone for the rest of their lives. More than half of those arrests were for young people. It limits housing, education and employment opportunities.”


Marijuana busts account for nearly 60 percent of drug arrests across Virginia. (Anthony Bolante/Reuters)

Herring also pointed to a 2017 study showing a racial disparity in marijuana enforcement in the state. The Virginia Crime Commission found that 46 percent of those arrested for a first offense for possession of marijuana between 2007 and 2016 were African Americans, who represent about only 20 percent of Virginia’s population.

Herring wants to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana, pardon and expunge past convictions for marijuana possession and establish a framework to guide recreational use and sales of marijuana in the state.

Efforts to overhaul enforcement of marijuana laws have been repeatedly stymied by the state’s Republican-controlled legislature in recent years, including three major bills that died in committee during the most recent session.

Dana Schrad, executive director of the Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police (VACP), said highlighting arrest figures does not tell the full story of how the state is handling marijuana cases.

“What you really need to know is how they pled or were they diverted,” Schrad said. “An arrest alone doesn’t mean that everyone went to jail. There is a myth that we are packing the jails with possession cases. The prison sentences are going to distributors.”

Schrad said the increase in arrests could be in part an artifact of better reporting by police departments in recent years. Schrad said VACP is taking a wait-and-see approach on marijuana overhauls.

“Law enforcement has a unique perspective on this,” Schrad said. “Anytime you make a major change in laws for a substance that can be abused, trafficked and adulterated there are risks that we want to see addressed.”

Schrad said state officials need to look at impaired driving, marijuana laced with fentanyl or other opiates and the possibility that thieves might target marijuana dispensaries rich in cash, as they have in other states.

Eleven states and the District of Columbia have legalized pot for recreational use, while others have lessened penalties for being caught with the drug. Virginia has taken steps on medical marijuana, granting permission for five producers to begin selling THC-infused products this year.

In Virginia, a first conviction for possessing marijuana is a misdemeanor that can result in up to 30 days in jail and a $500 fine. Subsequent arrests can result in up to 12 months in jail and a $2,500 fine. A defendant’s driver’s license is also revoked for six months for a drug conviction.

The Virginia Crime Commission study found that only 31 people were in jail in July 2017 solely for a conviction of possessing marijuana in the state. The libertarian Cato Institute estimated Virginia spent $81 million on marijuana enforcement in 2016.

Supporters of marijuana decriminalization say the track record for change in Virginia has been dispiriting, but they are cautiously optimistic. State Sen. Adam P. Ebbin (D-Alexandria), who has sponsored bills on changing marijuana laws, said the recent primary victories by like-minded commonwealth’s attorney candidates has been encouraging.

Candidates who favor dropping marijuana prosecutions recently won primaries in Arlington and Fairfax counties, two of the state’s largest jurisdictions. They unseated incumbents with stricter stances on marijuana.

Jenn Michelle Pedini, executive director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) chapter in Virginia, and Herring also pointed to the possibility that Democrats could retake the Virginia legislature in November, clearing the way for the bills to pass.

“Virginians overwhelmingly want a fine, not a crime, for marijuana possession,” Pedini said.
I refuse to give VA government any credit for legalization. This is a completely and utter Potemkin Village of an MMJ program, intended to cover politician's asses on this issue while pretty much do shit all for patients. Check out the approved products, all capsules, topicals, suppositories, or tinctures, with max dose of 10mg.

Medical marijuana is coming to Northern Virginia next year

Northern Virginia’s first medical marijuana facility Dalisto will open its doors in Manassas next year.

While cultivation centers and dispensaries are completely separate in DC and Maryland, Virginia sites like Dalisto will house every step of the medical cannabis process from seed to sale under a single roof.
Last year, the Virginia Board of Pharmacy approved five of these hybrid facilities (referred to as “pharmaceutical processors“) in each of the state’s health service areas. Dalisto is the only one in Northern Virginia. The other four will be in Bristol, Richmond, Portsmouth, and Staunton.
At the helm is president and Pharmacist-in-Charge Farzana Kennedy, a pharmacist with 20 years of experience in Fairfax County.
“I’m really focused on my patients that are hesitant to use cannabis because of the stigma that we have,” Kennedy says. “[We are] really wanting to make sure that it’s not a threatening experience, that it’s not a finger pointing experience.”
Registered patients will consult with a clinician in a private area, like any other doctor’s office. But instead of having to trek to Walgreens or CVS after a visit, patients will pick up the recommended CBD and THC-A oils at the built-in pharmacy. The oils will come in a variety of different forms, like tablets and topicals, and will all be manufactured on site.
Dalisto plans to move into their building in December to start growing the plants, Kennedy says.
Or it gives him top cover on the issue without having to actually do anything. Sort of like their Potemkin Village of a med program.

Marijuana Summit Will Give Virginia Governor ‘More Tools’ To Back Legalization, Attorney General Says

Virginia’s attorney general indicated on Tuesday that one goal of a marijuana reform summit he’s hosting next week is to provide the governor with information he needs to get behind cannabis legalization.

Attorney General Mark Herring said that with new Democratic legislative majorities elected in November’s elections, the state is well positioned to advance cannabis reform that has stalled under the current General Assembly. That’s why he’s organizing an event to answer questions about the policies and set lawmakers up to pass decriminalization legislation as well as develop a plan to more broadly legalize marijuana for adult use.

But a question has remained as to whether legalization will get the support of Gov. Ralph Northam (D), who campaigned on the more incremental move of decriminalizing possession and talked about the issue in his State of the Commonwealth address this year but has not explicitly backed broader reform.

“Based on my conversations, he supports decriminalization,” the attorney general told Cheddar in response to a question about the governor’s cannabis stance. “Like a lot of people, I think they’d like to get more information about what legalization and what regulated, adult-use would look like.”

“There are some big questions out there about what Virginia needs to settle for itself,” Herring, who is running for governor himself in 2021, said. “Other states have talked about it, came to a consensus in their states about how to respond to that and do it—I think that’s something that we need to have that conversation in Virginia now and give lawmakers, policymakers, including the governor, more information, more tools.”

According to an invitation for Herring’s event, which is set to take place on December 11, the summit is “designed to better inform those discussions and offer perspectives from states that have implemented similar changes at the state level.”

Besides decriminalization and legalization, the event will also feature panels centered on CBD and hemp regulations, as well as social equity.

“I hope to give lawmakers more information, to get their questions, address any concern they might have,” Herring said. “I’m bringing experts in. I’m bringing folks from other states that have already taken these steps so they can share the experiences that they’ve had with decriminalization and legalization.”

“I really hope that this will build on the momentum that we started earlier last summer, then with the new elections having happened, we’ll have new leadership because some of these reform measures that have bene proposed had consistently been defeated in the old Republican leadership in the state legislature,” he said. “Now we’ve got a whole new team coming in and I think it’s a historic opportunity for Virginia to really make a major step here.”

Herring pointed to polling that shows Virginia residents are supportive of reform and said legislative efforts will be bolstered by a cannabis caucus that’s formed in the legislature.

The top law enforcement official has been a strong advocate for decriminalization and legalization, emphasizing the waste of police resources dedicated to enforcing criminalization, the long-term harms of criminal records for low-level cannabis offenses and the need for policies that are equitable.

“The social and human costs [of prohibition] are tremendous, and the weight of the system falls disproportionately on African Americans and people of color,” he wrote in an op-ed last month. “There are smarter, better ways we can handle cannabis and that begins with decriminalizing simple possession of small amounts, addressing past convictions and moving towards legal, regulated adult use.”

A lawmaker in the state has already prefiled a cannabis decriminalization bill for the 2020 session that would make possession of up to one ounce of marijuana punishable by a maximum $50 civil penalty.
Well, they certainly need to do something. VA's med program is an empty suit (CBD oil only, I believe).

Virginia moves closer to more relaxed pot laws with Democratic majority

RICHMOND — Virginia Attorney General Mark R. Herring and the General Assembly’s new“Cannabis Caucus” are exploring ways to loosen state marijuana laws, and will meet Wednesday to discuss decriminalizingpossession of the drug and legalizing it for recreational use.
Under the Democrats’ new majority in Richmond, lawmakers expect to pass legislation that has languished in previous years andseeks to wipe away criminal penalties of as much as 30 days in jail for pot possession.
Herring, a potential Democratic candidate for governor next year, organized the all-day summit inside the state Capitol to build more support for those bills. He also wants to lay a foundation for regulating the drug for legal consumption.

Both moves, he argues, would keep people from being saddled with criminal convictions in Virginia that blockthem from finding good jobs or qualifying for loans. Legalization also would offer pot users a safer choice amid worries over increasingly powerful strains of the drug sold on the streets leading to overdoses, Herring said in an interview Tuesday.

“Criminalizing possession of small amounts of marijuana is not working in Virginia,” he said, citing state statistics that show the number of marijuana-related arrests have tripled since 1999 to nearly 30,000 last year, with people of color disproportionately affected.
“I have seen and heard so many examples of how an arrest for marijuana possession and conviction can limit someone’s opportunities in so many ways,” Herring said.

Momentum has been building around the country for regulated pot use. States like Colorado, which last year collected $1.1 billion in taxes generated from its marijuana market, usethe extra revenue to boost spending for schools or fix roads.
In all, nearly 30 states have passed decriminalization laws, while 11 now consider marijuana a legal drug, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures umbrella organization.

A 2014 law approved by District of Columbia voters allows residents to grow and possess small amounts of pot in their homes. But they can’t legally buy it, and the city can’t tax marijuana sales because of a federal budget provision that prohibits the District from enacting or enforcing legalization laws — an obstacle House Democrats hope to strip away.

Democratic House majority may mean full marijuana legalization in D.C.
Jake Van Wingerden checks marijuana plants at SunMed Growers’ medical cannabis growing facility in Warwick, Md. (Michael Robinson Chavez/The Washington Post)
Jake Van Wingerden checks marijuana plants at SunMed Growers’ medical cannabis growing facility in Warwick, Md. (Michael Robinson Chavez/The Washington Post)
Maryland treats both the public use of marijuana and possession of less than 10 grams of the drug as civil offenses, punishable by a fine of as much as $500. The state legalized marijuana for medical use in 2013.
A bipartisan group of Maryland lawmakers worked this year to craft legislation for 2020 that would legalize the drug, but its leaders concluded they need more time to work out the regulatory and taxing details. They estimate a marijuana industry in Maryland would generate as much as $200 million per year in tax revenue — a drop in the bucket for officials who had hoped legalization would help pay for a plan to boost school spending by $4 billion.

“It’s not this huge boon that people think it is,” said Del. Kathleen M. Dumais (D-Montgomery), one of the co-chairs of the bipartisan work group. But, she added, “If people are using it, it’s something that we should be regulating to make sure it’s a safe product.”

Democrats in Virginia are also unsure of how best to pursue more relaxed marijuana laws.
The state is preparing to roll out a program next year to allow residents to buy medical cannabis oil at five state-approved dispensaries, operating under a measure approved in 2017.
Democratic lawmakers formed the Cannabis Caucus earlier this year. But its co-chair, Sen. David W. Marsden (D-Fairfax), said he’s not yet ready to support legalizing marijuana — a potentially volatile idea that most Republicans oppose.
Marsden said he wants to focus first on ensuring that the cannabis oil program is well-run, while working to pass legislation that would eliminate criminal penalties related to possession of marijuana, without still disproportionately harming people of color.

“If, instead of arrests, you just replace it with civil penalties, the same people are going to be impacted,” Marsden said. “I think we have to put some thought in this.”
The summit planned for Wednesday will help in that regard because it will include insights from law enforcement experts and officials from Colorado and Illinois who have worked to implement marijuana laws there, he said.
The first outdoor marijuana crop on the East Coast is being harvested
Like Herring, other Democrats who planned to attend the event view it as a step toward legalizing marijuana altogether, though several agreed they would like to be cautious about doing so.
State Sen. Adam P. Ebbin (D-Alexandria) (Timothy Wright/For The Washington Post)
State Sen. Adam P. Ebbin (D-Alexandria) (Timothy Wright/For The Washington Post)
“When we move to legalization, we need to make sure that there is a distribution system that works, that there’s not a black market, that the product is kept away from children and that the taxing is well-thought-out,” said Sen. Adam P. Ebbin (D-Alexandria), who has introduced a decriminalization bill that, among other things, would allow people convicted of marijuana possession to have their records expunged.

Del. Stephen E. Heretick (D-Portsmouth), another Cannabis Caucus co-chair, said he will introduce legislation to establish a regulatory scheme for marijuana growers, manufacturers and retailers, with a goal of pursuing actual legalization within five years.
A version of that bill died in committee last year, he said.
“I don’t think Virginia is ready for full legalization at this point, but what I do hope to accomplish is to at least have conversations about what makes for good policy in Virginia,” Heretick said.
Jeff Ryer, a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Thomas K. Norment (R-James City), said GOP leaders generally support reducing criminal penalties for marijuana possession. For example, a 2017 law that won overwhelming GOP support stopped the state from penalizing people convicted of pot possession by suspending their driver’s licenses for as many as six months.

Under GOP leadership, “a lot of things have been done to change the focus to treatment,” Ryer said.
Dana Schrad, executive director of the Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police, said an emphasis on getting marijuana users to seek treatment is most easily done if the alternative to treatment is potential jail time. She called decriminalizing marijuana possession “a slippery slope,” though her organization is open to supporting some versions of reduced criminal penalties.
The law enforcement group opposeslegalization, arguing that, among other things, it could lead to more driving under the influence of marijuana — particularly as more potent strains of the drug enter the legal market.

“What’s being sold out there is much stronger than when I was in college many years ago,” Schrad said.
Virginia Marijuana Decriminalization Bill Moves Forward In Spite Of State ACLU Protest

A marijuana decriminalization bill at the center of a debate among reform advocates in Virginia moved forward on Wednesday.

While the state’s chapter of the ACLU has voiced opposition to the legislation, arguing that it doesn’t do enough to protect communities of color from being caught up in cannabis criminalization, the Senate Judiciary Committee has referred the bill to a subcommittee where it’s expected to be amended and sent back to the full panel for a vote.

“I was excited to see the committee’s interest in advancing decriminalization,” Sen. Adam Ebbin (D), the bill’s lead sponsor, told Marijuana Moment. “It was encouraging to see SB2 sent to subcommittee for an earnest discussion on how we can lessen the punitive impact of Virginia’s marijuana laws.”

Advocates generally share some ACLU concerns about the legislation as it’s currently drafted, though the pro-legalization group NORML is interested in advancing it with certain changes. As it stands, the bill would make simple possession a civil penalty punishable by a maximum $50 fine, whereas current policy stipulates that a first offense is punishable by a maximum $500 fine and up to 30 days in jail.

“NORML and Virginia NORML are pleased to continuing supporting Senator Ebbin and the SB2 copatrons in drafting and passing the best decriminalization bill possible,” NORML Virginia Executive Director Jenn Michelle Pedini told Marijuana Moment. “We’ve been working with the Virginia legislature for years to achieve broad, bipartisan consensus on this issue, and look forward to crossing the finish line this session.”

The Judiciary’s Criminal Law subcommittee will take up the bill soon, with several amendments on the table. Pedini said that language around expungements, juvenile offender provisions and policies on whether the smell of cannabis should remain as probable cause for searches are among issues that need to be hashed out.

But as far as the ACLU of Virginia is concerned, the simple decriminalization bill is inadequate, and lawmakers need to prioritize comprehensive legalization legislation.

In a letter sent to Gov. Ralph Northam (D) on Tuesday, the group said decriminalization “does nothing to end racist pretextual stops by police, and continuing to allow law enforcement to use marijuana laws for this purpose, coupled with expanded ‘prosecutorial authority’ for city and county attorneys, likely will result in even greater racial disparities in enforcement than we have with existing laws.”

“The only way to stop the harm is to remove the prohibition on marijuana possession and use from the code completely, making it legal for adults to possess and use marijuana now and eliminating this racist policing tool,” ACLU of Virginia wrote.

In an interview this month, the group’s executive director, Claire Gastañaga, said they would “prefer the status quo while we’re waiting for full legalization.”

Northam campaigned on decriminalization during his election bid in 2017 and included the policy change proposal in his annual State of the Commonwealth speech earlier this month, arguing that the state needs “to take an honest look at our criminal justice system to make sure we’re treating people fairly and using taxpayer dollars wisely.”

Attorney General Mark Herring (D), who is running for governor in 2021 to replace the term-limited Northam, is supportive of broader reform and organized a summit last year last month where lawmakers heard from officials in states that have legalized about regulatory challenges and opportunities.

A Virginia lawmaker filed a legalization bill ahead of that summit, which Herring said would provide the governor with the resources he needs to embrace comprehensive reform.
“I just have a libertarian streak,” said Del. Michael Webert, R-Fauquier. “People should be able to do stuff.”​
Now that's singing my song, right there.....yes, people should be able to do stuff without requiring the constant approval of other people.

‘I just have a libertarian streak.’ Nine House Republicans vote with Democrats to decriminalize marijuana.

Virginia Democrats have made no secret that they planned to use their new majorities to decriminalize marijuana this year. (To the extent that there’s been a debate, it’s been focused on whether the state should skip straight to outright legalization.)

Less certain was how many members of the GOP, whose leaders have blocked decriminalization legislation for years, would support the proposal.

The answer came with a floor vote Monday, when nine GOP delegates, or just shy of a quarter of the caucus’ members, joined House Democrats to pass a bill reducing the penalty for possession of a half ounce or less to a $25 fine.

Members gave varied reasons for their vote.

“I just have a libertarian streak,” said Del. Michael Webert, R-Fauquier. “People should be able to do stuff.”

Del. Nick Freitas, R-Culpeper, who also frequently aligns himself with libertarian values, called chasing low-level drug offenders a poor use of police resources.

“I don’t think we should be putting people in jail for possession of marijuana,” he said. “I’d rather we use law enforcement resources to go after violent criminals and people that are creating victims.”
Virginia set to decriminalize marijuana after lawmakers OK bill

Virginia is on track to become the 16th US state to decriminalize marijuana after the state’s House and Senate approved a decriminalization bill this week.
First, on Monday, the House gave the green light for its decriminalization bill in a vote of 64-34, followed by the state Senate approving its own bill on Tuesday by a vote of 27-13.

The House version foresees a $25 fine for small marijuana possession charges, while the Senate voted for a maximum civil penalty of $50 or 5 hours of community service.
Under Virginia’s current law, low-level weed charges could lead to a $500 fine and up to 30 days in jail.

Up until 2017, people caught with marijuana would also have their driver’s license taken away as Virginia is among states that adopted so-called Smoke a joint, lose your license laws.

The passage of these laws was encouraged by the federal Solomon–Lautenberg amendment (1990), which sought to take away driver’s licenses from anyone who committed a drug offense.

Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring welcomed decriminalization in a statement in which he expressed hope the state would soon legalize recreational marijuana as well.
“Passing decriminalization in both the House and the Senate is a really important first step in the right direction on Virginia’s journey towards legal and regulated adult use, but this cannot be the end,” Herring stated.
The attorney general went on to cite the disproportionate targeting of people of color by the War on Drugs.
“We must keep going because the work is not done. For too long, Virginia’s approach to cannabis has needlessly saddled Virginians, especially African Americans and people of color, with criminal records but with these votes that is finally coming to an end,” the attorney general said.
“I want to thank my colleagues in both the House and the Senate for joining me in making this issue a priority and I look forward to seeing the progress we can make in the coming years,” he concluded.
Virginia’s Governor Ralph Northam is expected to grant the final seal of approval to a decriminalization bill as he himself called on lawmakers to enact marijuana reform throughout his campaign and tenure as governor.

Sixteen US states have decriminalized weed, four of them last year (Hawaii, New Mexico, North Dakota and New York). Meanwhile, 11 states and Washington DC have fully legalized marijuana.

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