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Virginia considers decriminalizing cannabis


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Thor Benson / Cannabis News Box Contributor

One of the most powerful lawmakers in Virginia claims he’s considering adding cannabis decriminalization to the state’s budget bill this year. State Senator Tommy Norment said recently that he sees a lot of support in the state for decriminalizing cannabis and is taking the issue seriously.

“I may be looking to do something in the budget for I just got a poll back 71 percent of Virginia supports the decriminalization of marijuana,” Norment said.

Delegate Barry Knight has also said he’d be willing to support decriminalization, saying that being caught in possession of cannabis should be equivalent to getting a parking ticket. Both of the men are Republicans, which is significant, as Republicans in Virginia haven’t exactly been excited about the idea of legalizing cannabis or decriminalizing it in the past.

“Seven out of ten Virginians support fines not crimes for simple marijuana possession,” Jenn Pedini, executive director of NORML’s Virginia office, told Cannabis News Box. “There’s also broad bipartisan support for decriminalization the Virginia General Assembly. What we’ve yet to see is support from the controlling members of the Courts of Justice committees in the House or Senate, through which a decriminalization bill must advance for a floor vote.”

Pedini said that decriminalizing cannabis would actually cut the number of cannabis-related arrests in half in Virginia, which would mean law enforcement could focus on much more serious crimes. Millions are currently spent every year enforcing current drug policies.

“Virginia arrested nearly 28,000 for marijuana in 2017, a drastic 20% increase from 2016,” Pedini said. “We anticipate 2017 spending for enforcement of marijuana prohibition to top $100M.”

Pedini sees decriminalization as an important racial justice issue in Virginia, which has a relatively high black population. She noted that although black residents use cannabis at the same rates as white residents, they get arrested over cannabis at far higher rates.

“African-Americans make up only 20% of Virginia’s popular yet are arrested three times more for marijuana possession than whites, despite equal usage rates,” Pedini said. “Reducing the overall number of arrests lessens the impact on communities of color, but will not necessarily reduce the disparity in arrest rates.”

Though Virginia is seen as a relatively conservative state, Pedini said residents are “clamoring” for cannabis law reform. It seems even the conservative lawmakers in the state see this and are starting to warm up to the idea. Perhaps legalization, too, will soon become a reality in Virginia. It may only be a matter of time.

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