Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe (D) signed two marijuana reform bills this week, ending the state’s automatic six-month driver’s license suspension for first-time possession offenders and allowing the production of CBD oil.
This may look like a couple drops in a raging storm of national decriminalization, but NORML Executive Director, Erik Altieri, said — considering the state — it’s a huge accomplishment.
“The two measures signed into law in Virginia this week may seem like baby steps, but they are the culmination of years of dedicated advocacy and legislative outreach,” Altieri said.
“While neither of these bills will end the arrest of around 18,000 Virginians a year for marijuana possession or create an ideal, accessible medical marijuana program — they represent important progress in terms of growing legislative support for marijuana law reforms.”
When SB 1091 — which ends Virginia’s automatic ID suspension penalty — goes into effect at the start of July, it will be left at the court’s discretion whether or not to impose this condition as a term of probation, and convicts will still be subject to other conditions under Virginia law, including substance abuse screening, drug testing and community service. Minors are still subject to automatic license suspension under the new law.
For many years Virginia has all but topped the list of places you didn’t want to be caught with marijuana. For East Coasters, it represents the gateway to the south: It’s crazy how good the pot is in Washington D.C., but for god’s sake, stay out of Arlington.
And in recent years Virginia has seen quite the boom in enforcement: according to data collected by the Drug Policy Alliance, marijuana possession arrests increased from 13,032 to in 2003 to 22,948 in 2014 – an increase of 76 percent that was especially pronounced in majority Black neighborhoods.
For context, national marijuana possession arrests decreased by 6.5 percent from 2003 to 2014.
Now that McAuliffe’s put pen to paper, the state should begin to see continued progress in this area, which has already seen some improvement since 2014. This past December, Newport News reported that the number of people arrested or charged with marijuana offences had fallen by 14 percent statewide over a two-year stretch — from 25,981 in 2013 to 22,428 in 2015.
This is a fantastic step in the right direction, but putting real decriminalization laws on the books is the real answer to ending the waste and social destruction of cannabis prohibition. Keeping strict laws on the books but applying lenient, quasi-enforcement standards creates the potential for serious trouble.
Under “selective enforcement,” those who are most affected and targeted by law enforcement now — communities of colors — would continue to carry that burden: in the three years from 2011 to 2013, marijuana possession arrests increased by 1,987 in Virginia — Black people accounted for 82 percent of that increase.
Virginia reforms cannabis laws with SB 1027 – is it enough?
The Marijuana Policy Project referred to SB 1027 as an “extremely narrow law.” It will allow those suffering from intractable epilepsy to access CBD oils produced in-state by Department of Health-approved pharmaceutical companies.
These oils would require a minimum of 15 percent CBD content and a maximum THC content of 5 percent; this would deny patients access to popular 3-1, and 1-1 CBD-to-THC formulations gaining popularity with patients on the west coast and in Colorado.
The Board of Pharmacy has until December 15, 2017, to issue their proposed regulations for governing the program. According to MPP, It will likely take a year or longer for patients to (legally) begin treatment with CBD oils.
The oils will be distributed directly to patients by the producers in up to a one month supply. The producers won’t be required to make anything else or be a certified with the DEA, but they must have a pharmacist running the show at their facility. MPP said there is no indication yet how many licensed facilities will be permitted.
These recent successes have fired up Virginia activists, who continue to work towards full decriminalization and safe access.
In a statement on the new laws, MPP Legislative Counsel, Maggie Ellinger-Locke, gave voice to those aspirations.
“While these two enacted reforms are steps in the right direction, they are far short of the improvements Virginians need,” she said. “A poll released earlier this year found nearly 8 in 10 state residents support replacing marijuana criminal convictions with a fine, and 62 percent favored ending cannabis prohibition altogether.”
Altieri said the shifting tide favors decriminalization.
“These new laws indicate a changing tide in Virginia, and have given us enough momentum that we fully expect to take decriminalization across the finish line in 2018 with significant bi-partisan support,” he said.
TELL US, do you think Virginia is on the path to full decriminalization?