Posted by: brad – Jan 16, 2014
VA Has the Oldest Marijuana Law on the Books, but perhaps not for long.
While Colorado and Washington become national examples for progressive marijuana laws, advocates in Virginia are fighting for the most basic marijuana legislation. But there is one delegate in Virginia still pushing for further restrictions on the substance.
Safe Access Virginia, the state chapter of Americans for Safe Access is the “largest group of patients and patient advocates lobbying for the legalization of medical cannabis in the country,” said T.J. Thompson, the organizations Virginia State Chapter Chair.
“We are strictly for medical cannabis,” said Thompson. “We have no interest in legalization or decriminalization [of recreational marijuana].” While the group will be lobbying on Monday, 1/20, to introduce new legislation, Safe Access Virginia will also lobby against House Bill 684, a bill introduced by Del. Robert Marshall that aims to repeal Virginia’s only marijuana law.
Virginia’s current literature – which has been on the books since 1979 – defines possession of the substance as illegal, unless “obtained directly from, or pursuant to, a valid prescription or order of a practitioner while acting in the course of his professional practice, or except as otherwise authorized by the Drug Control Act.” This makes the drug legal for prescription purposes, but does not allow any organization or authority to hold and distribute it.
Del. Marshall seeks to completely eliminate these exceptions.
Del. Marshall was unavailable for comment by press time.
In addition to lobbying against House Bill 684, Safe Access Virginia will work to find a patron for a bill that will legalize medical cannabis. “We’ve titled it the Virginia Medical Cannabis Act, and… [it would] extend protection to patients and… doctors,” said Thompson. “We also want to establish a system of distribution and cultivation.”
According to its website, Americans for Safe Access “share the mission of ensuring safe and legal access to cannabis (marijuana) for therapeutic uses and research.” Thompson sites those suffering from epilepsy, MS, and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder all as candidates for medical cannabis.
“We’ve learned that medical cannabis is a great source of treatment [for epileptic children], and it provides a medicine that doesn't reduce their quality of life-like the pills that they’re on,” said Thompson. “It would help people who suffer from MS, as well. All these people are looking for is relief from the pain that they suffer. There are many, numerous clinical trials and lots of positive forms of treatment for over 200 illnesses and diseases.”
While Safe Access Virginia aims only for the legalization of medical cannabis, Virginia NORML (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws) seeks to introduce legislation which would decriminalize the possession of marijuana.
“We had a decriminalization bill introduced IN 2011… that did not make it through committee,” said Ed McCann, Executive Director of Virginia NORML. “We’re basically asking for that same bill to be introduced. It would eliminate the penalties for possession and make a civil fine for $500. We might ask for that to be lowered.”
Since the recent legalization of the purchase of marijuana for recreational use in Colorado, the country has been buzzing with weed-related chatter. An October 2013 Gallup Poll showed that a majority of Americans – 58 percent – support the legalization of marijuana.
“It’s inevitable that marijuana will be legal in Virginia within the next 10 – 20 yeas, maximum,” said McCann. “We’re going to see, I think, benefits in Colorado with very few drawbacks.” McCann explains that the current Virginia state marijuana laws do not achieve goals of reducing use. “Law enforcement has no impact on use or availability,” said McCann. “We want to work with legislators to craft a good system that would work and is acceptable for Virginians. We don’t want pot sold at 711, we don’t want it given to kids, we don’t want people high on the roads. But the current laws don’t do anything to address that.”
While the parts of the country are moving in the direction of marijuana legalization, McCann understands that the state of Virginia will not see change overnight. “None of this is going to happen quickly in Virginia. It’s a multi-year process,” he said. “But we’re approaching the end of prohibition.”
Words by Emilie Von Unwerth Illustration by R. Anthony Harris