Marijuana advocates in Virginia are ramping up the pressure on lawmakers to bring legalization to the commonwealth.
The state’s chapter of NORML on Tuesday issued a call for legislators to move forward “expeditiously” with a bill to legalize recreational pot use for adults.
“Ceding control of the marijuana market to unregulated criminal enterprises in no way provides for public or consumer safety,” Virginia NORML executive director Jenn Michelle Pedini said. “Let’s be clear: legalization neither creates nor normalizes the marijuana market. This market already exists in Virginia and is widespread. But today this market remains underground and those involved in it largely remain unaccountable. They don’t pay taxes, they don’t check IDs, and they don’t test the purity of their product. By contrast, legalization and regulation provides oversight regarding who may legally operate in said markets and provides guidelines so that those who do can engage in best practices — ensuring that the market is safe and transparent.”
In addition to serving as executive director of the Virginia chapter, Pedini is also NORML’s development director.
The statement from the nation’s leading marijuana advocacy group comes after the city of Alexandria, Virginia issued a warning to residents about potentially altered marijuana following four overdoses in the area. The city said that “[one] person died, and the other three were revived with Narcan (naloxone), suggesting that the marijuana may have been mixed with opioids.”
“While use of any illegal drug is dangerous, City officials are urging residents to be especially cautious given these recent overdoses,” the city said earlier this week.
Pedini and other advocates have support among some key Virginia leaders. Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring, a Democrat, announced his support for legalization a year ago, saying it was “time to move toward legal, regulated adult use.”
Herring had previously said that he intended to run for governor of Virginia next year, but last month he said he was backing away from those plans and would instead seek re-election as attorney general.
Decriminalization in Virginia
In the spring, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam signed legislation as part of a robust criminal justice package that decriminalized marijuana.
“Every Virginian deserves access to a fair and equitable criminal justice system,” Northam said at the time. “These bills combat mass incarceration, increase support for returning citizens, and ensure that those who have paid their debt to society have a meaningful second chance. I thank the General Assembly for working with us to build a more just and inclusive Commonwealth.”
The legislation also included a provision for the state’s General Assembly to appoint “four members of the Governor’s Cabinet to lead a work group consisting of government officials, policy experts, healthcare professionals, and citizen leaders to study legalizing the sale and personal use of marijuana and submit a report by November 30, 2020.”
Another Virginia Democrat, Delegate Stephen Heretick, joined NORML’s call for legalization this week.
“Just like alcohol prohibition gave rise to the illicit production of dangerous ‘bathtub gin,’ marijuana prohibition provides bad actors, not licensed businesses, the opportunity to fulfill consumers’ demand,” he said. “This is why we need to displace this illicit market with one that is governed by common sense regulations and controls.”