Members of the House of Delegates expect it to pass.

In the Senate, they give it “slightly better than 50-50 odds.”

And Gov. Ralph Northam’s office says he’s “certainly open to it.”

Proposals to legalize recreational marijuana in Virginia are set to get their first serious hearings when the General Assembly convenes in January and, at least for now, it looks like there’s a decent chance they could succeed.

“It’s high time we actually make this change and I think other people have seen that as well,” said Del. Mike Mullin, D-Newport News, who chairs the House’s criminal law subcommittee and says he believes there are enough votes in the chamber to end prohibition of the drug. “I can tell you I think it will pass.”

The movement in Virginia comes after voters in four states overwhelmingly approved referendums legalizing marijuana, bringing the total nationwide total to 15. If lawmakers in Virginia move forward, the state would become the first in the South to authorize recreational use of the drug.

Virginia has been slowly loosening its stance on marijuana for years, first allowing medical use of CBD in 2017, expanding that to a full-fledged medical marijuana program by 2019 and, earlier this year, passing legislation that reduced the penalty for people caught with small amounts of the drug to a $25 civil fine.

But to date, no proposals to fully legalize and regulate adult use of the drug have made it the floor of either chamber in the General Assembly despite rapidly shifting public opinion in favor of the measures.

The outcome was unsurprising when Republicans controlled the General Assembly, many of whom opposed efforts to expand access to the drug. But some Democrats eager to move past prohibition after winning majorities in the House and Senate last year were disappointed when their colleagues voted down their own legalization bills.

Democrats framed decriminalization — and now legalization — as an important step to end disparate enforcement of drug laws on Black Virginians, who have been prosecuted at significantly higher rates despite studies showing they use the drug at roughly the same rate as their White counterparts.

But Democratic leaders, including Northam, said last year that it would be irresponsible for the state to move straight to fully legalizing the drug without first studying how other states have approached the issue. To that end, lawmakers requested two studies reviewing potential regulatory models and tax schemes when they approved decriminalization in March.

Those studies are due this month — the first is scheduled to be presented Monday — and party leaders say they’re ready to give the issue serious consideration.

Northam’s office and leaders in the House and Senate all said that because the issue is entirely new for the state, they’ll be looking for broad guidance on how to set up and regulate the new industry from scratch. Outstanding questions include how licenses to grow and sell the plant will be distributed, what say local governments should have in the process and whether a new state agency should be created to govern the industry or an existing bureaucracy like the Alcoholic Beverage Control Authority should take on the duties.

Northam — a physician who helped raise the state’s smoking age to 21 and voiced concern at the beginning of the year about condoning drug use — remains interested in youth health and how those concerns will be addressed, said his chief of staff, Clark Mercer. But in the context of adult use, he said Northam understands the broader history of its prohibition in the country, which was largely sparked by anti-Mexican and anti-Black sentiment in the early 1900s and fears the drug was causing the two groups to “forget their place in the fabric of American society,” as CBS News put it in 2016.

“He is certainly open to it and we’re going to look at the reports when they come out and continue to dig into the details of how you go about regulating an industry,” Mercer said. “The door is not closed in our office on this issue.”

In the House, Majority Leader Charniele Herring, D-Alexandria, agreed with Mullin that a legalization bill could clear the chamber: “I think it has a good chance,” she said. However she cautioned that members wouldn’t rush a bill through: “But I can’t say that it’s definitely going to happen if members don’t feel comfortable with the proper regulatory construct.”

She said one area she’ll be focused on is making sure the population most impacted by prohibition — Black Virginians — have an opportunity to participate in any new industry. Some states, for instance, have set aside a certain number of retail and production licenses for minority-owned businesses.

In the Senate, where Democrats hold a narrower 21-19 majority, the bigger question is whether the basic concept will be able to muster enough support to pass.

Senate Majority Leader Dick Saslaw, D-Fairfax, has said in the past that while he backed decriminalization, he wasn’t certain he would support legalization. In a phone call Thursday, he said he is open to the idea. “I’m willing to listen,” he said. “I want to hear what both sides have to say.”

He put the odds of passage at “slightly better than 50-50,” an assessment shared by Sen. Adam Ebbin, D-Alexandria, who proposed the decriminalization legislation earlier this year and plans to carry a legalization bill in January with Sen. Jennifer McClellan, D-Richmond.

Sen. Creigh Deeds, D-Bath, who chairs the chamber’s criminal law subcommittee, said he’s withholding judgement until the studies are delivered, but hadn’t expected to take the issue back up again so soon after decriminalization. “I’m not opposed to the idea,” he said. “I just want to do it right.”

While Democrats make up the bulk of support, any votes on the issue are unlikely to fall strictly on party-lines, said Jenn Michelle Pedini, executive director of Virginia NORML, the state chapter of the National Organization for the Reform Marijuana Laws, which has led lobbying efforts on the bill and noted that about a dozen Republicans backed decriminalization.

Ebbin said that, whatever the outcome next year, it’s clear Virginia is on track to move forward sooner than later.

“I think it’s pretty clear that the people expect this to happen eventually,” he said.

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(13) comments

SuperNova

GET GREEN VA! It will be a beautiful day when we’d is legal.

todd6263

I guess I would love for we'd to be legal-please explain what it is, man. Or just follow the Oregon model and make everything legal. What could possibly go wrong?

fake_journalist

It boils down to this: A person’s brain doesn’t stop devolving until they are 25 years old and EVERYTHING in our power as society should stop young people from using TCP. That being said, giving kids felonies for weed is not the answer and creates more problems then it solves.

fake_journalist

*evolving!

Stoptheinsanity

And illegal immigrations

Citizen52

Yes, let’s make another drug legal for recreation because it’s so good to breathe smoke into the lungs, developmentally enhances youngsters and unborn children, improves driver performance on the road, and motivates people to work. Most of it stinks to high Heaven, too. It’s ridiculous the lengths lawmakers will go to for more tax revenue.

Iwouldntgiveabean

You can thank Nixon for that:

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/the-science-behind-the-dea-s-long-war-on-marijuana/

Marijuana was placed in Schedule I in 1971 provisionally, until the science could be assessed. But Pres. Richard Nixon saw pot prohibition as a way to destroy the antiwar left, according to clandestine recordings made by Nixon in the White House as well as statements from his staff to the press. Nixon convened The National Commission on Marihuana and Drug Abuse (what became known as the Shafer Commission) to engineer scientific support for cannabis’s Schedule I placement. “I want a goddamn strong statement on marijuana,” Nixon said in tapes from 1971. “Can I get that out of this sonofabitching, uh, domestic council? … I mean one on marijuana that just tears the ass out of them.”

The Shafer Commission found in 1972 that cannabis was as safe as alcohol, and recommended ending prohibition in favor of a public health approach. But by then the Federal Bureau of Narcotics had been removed from the Treasury Department and merged into the U.S. Department of Justice—where Nixon’s ally, Attorney General John Mitchell, placed cannabis in Schedule I in 1972; that same year he resigned to head Nixon’s re-election committee. (He later stood trial in 1974 over the Watergate scandal and served 19 months of a prison sentence for conspiracy, perjury and obstruction of justice.] “You want to know what this was really all about?” Nixon aid John Ehrlichman told journalist Dan Baum in 1994, according to an article published in Harper’s Magazine in 2016. “The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. You understand what I’m saying? We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.”

The same argument can be made about alcohol being bad for just about everything.

Stoptheinsanity

[alien][alien][alien]

Citizen52

You just made my point with your last sentence, Bean. Sorry that you felt you had to “educate” me. All you need to do is go to the CDC website to see the negatives listed. More importantly, through our professions, some of us have seen firsthand the negative consequences marijuana has had on lives. Not everyone is a responsible user.

Iwouldntgiveabean

The reason I provided the background on the Class A drug distinction is that it was a politically motivated move not grounded in science. A lot of people don't bother to look up why things are the way they are and just accept the status quo. In this case, Marijuana was lumped in with the whole "War on Drugs" crusade.

You are correct in that not everyone is a responsible user and it only takes one mistake to ruin yours or another's life.

Citizen52

Bean, please read further and much deeper. You will find that this quote was not fact but an opinion reported by a journalist and supposedly expressed by a somewhat dubious (Watergate planner) individual years after the fact. Racism and anti-hippie motivations weren’t the primary push but a good narrative for the opposition. The country was fed up with the drug culture and the violence of the anti-war protests. It’s one reason LBJ didn’t run, again. Drug use, primarily marijuana, was rampant on campuses and some universities had to shut down due to the violence of the anti-war riots primarily led by hippies, SDS, etc. The public was demanding something be done, including the college students who were negatively affected by these bad actors.

Iwouldntgiveabean

I'm glad you bring up research!

I am very familiar with the National Archives in College Park.

Did you know that they fully digitized the Nixon tapes in 2018?! It was a huge feat that took years and manning, but it was done.

https://www.archives.gov/open/nixon/37-wht-dataset-conversationlist.html

In the following report, the footnotes provide the source to the quotes:

http://www.csdp.org/research/shafernixon.pdf

Even cooler, is if you will find that many of the recordings have been made available to the public and are online:

https://www.nixonlibrary.gov/white-house-tapes/

Here is the actual taped conversation where the quote I cited is here for your enjoyment (it is an hour and 25 min long): https://www.nixonlibrary.gov/white-house-tapes/505/conversation-505-004

10 May 26, 1971, 10:03 am - 11:35 am -- Oval Office Conversation

505-4 -- Meeting with Nixon and Bob Haldeman

Iwouldntgiveabean

I forgot to add that Ehrlichman was Nixon's domestic advisor since 1969 and went to prison for the Watergate scandal. Having a first-hand account of presidential activities and being actively involved as an advisor to the president is a pretty good source.

Here is the Harpers article that quotes him.

https://harpers.org/archive/2016/04/legalize-it-all/

What is a Primary Source?

Primary sources are the historical documents used by historians as evidence. Examples of primary sources include diaries, personal journals, government records, court records, property records, newspaper articles, military reports, military rosters, and many other things.

In contrast, a secondary source is the typical history book which may discuss a person, event or other historical topic. A good secondary source uses primary sources as evidence.

The key to determining whether an item may be considered to be a primary source is to ask how soon after the event was the information recorded. This can be a problem with an autobiography, memoir, reminiscence, etc. if the author is working several years with only the memory of what happened. Your history professor will disallow most or all of these as primary sources.

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