About 62 percent of Virginians think we should be able to smoke marijuana recreationally, but that hasn’t done much to change the state’s laws around the drug.
About 62 percent of Virginians think we should be able to smoke marijuana recreationally, but that hasn’t done much to change the state’s laws around the drug. And while states like Colorado rake in millions on pot-taxes, and other states continue to open their laws to the idea, other states continue to lag behind.
But that isn’t stopping Sen. Adam Ebbin, D-Alexandria, who has proposed SB 784 which would revise the existing order that a person loses their driver’s license for six months after being charged with possession.
This would apply to adults only, juveniles would still have their license suspended.
Jenn Michele Pedini, an organizer and director of the Richmond chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML RVA), collaborated with Ebbin on this bill and his other marijuana “decrim” bills in the past.
Currently, anyone caught with marijuana and charged will lose their driver’s license for six months regardless if their automobile is involved in the citation.
“A grandmother at home who has marijuana oil that she uses for her arthritis would lose her license even though she wasn’t on the road,” Pedini said about how the law currently works.
She said the law places an undue burden on Virginians and often complicates the lives of those found guilty. They can have trouble getting to work or school to help them recover from charges, among other complications associated with losing their driver’s license.
She called the idea a bipartisan issue and reinforced the idea that data shows criminalization of the non-toxic substance often does more harm than good, especially to minority communities.
“I think that we should be basing our laws off facts and science instead of this out dated rhetoric,” she said.
Putting the drug war front and center in the last few years, The ACLU has studied the issue to release statistics showing how the police-run action has harmed American citizens instead of helping them.
“Of the 8.2 million marijuana arrests between 2001 and 2010, 88 percent were for simply having marijuana,” reads a section of their Marijuana Arrests by the Numbers website. “Nationwide, the arrest data revealed one consistent trend: significant racial bias. Despite roughly equal usage rates, Blacks are 3.73 times more likely than whites to be arrested for marijuana.”
The rhetoric that Pedini mentions and the ACLU continues to push back on comes directly from the “War On Drugs” campaign, something Ebbin believes has faltered as well.
“Marijuana prohibition has failed not only in our country but in our Commonwealth and we should focus law enforcement on serious crimes that are committed against other people not personal choices for a plant that is certainly less harmful than alcohol,” Ebbin said.
This bill is one of many that Ebbin has worked with NORML and others on to lead to complete decriminalization of marijuana in Virginia.
And he’s not alone in this belief. A 2016 poll from VCU’s L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs found support for decriminalized marijuana possession is at an all time high.
… the majority of Virginians (78%) support reducing the penalty for possession of small amounts of marijuana to a fine of $100 instead of a misdemeanor conviction. There were, however, demographic variations. Black respondents (88%) were more likely to strongly or somewhat agree with fines in place of a conviction in comparison to White (76%) and Hispanic (72%) respondents. Younger respondents (75%-82%) and those with incomes greater than $100,000 (86%) were more supportive of reduced sanctions. Political affiliation also had a slight impact on responses with Democrats (83%) being more favorable of reduced sanctions than Republicans (71%).
Support for recreational legalization in the Commonwealth is also higher than you’d probably imagine with 62 percent strongly or somewhat agreeing to the idea.
“It’s difficult to say what exactly is keeping these policy makers frozen in time when the data overwhelmingly says that criminalization is hurting more than helping,” Pedini said.
Ebbin’s past attempts at de-crim and legislation similar to SB 784 have not been met with much success, but he’s promised a broader de-crim bill in addition to this one dealing with licenses.
Either way, we’ll keep tracking this bill and more as we get closer to the 2017 General Assembly this winter.