Virginia’s second-largest city is officially calling on state lawmakers to decriminalize marijuana. It also wants an expansion of the commonwealth’s existing limited medical cannabis program.
“Support the decriminalization of simple possession of marijuana as well as the expansion of conditions that physicians licensed by the Virginia Board of Medicine can treat with cannabidiol or THC-A oil.”
The call by Norfolk officials comes as the state is better positioned than ever before to remove cannabis’s criminal penalties.
Incoming Gov.-elect Ralph Northam (D) made decriminalization a centerpiece of his campaign, often describing the issue in stark racial justice terms.
“We need to change sentencing laws that disproportionately hurt people of color. One of the best ways to do this is to decriminalize marijuana,” he wrote in a blog post early last year. “African Americans are 2.8 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession in Virginia. The Commonwealth spends more than $67 million on marijuana enforcement — money that could be better spent on rehabilitation.”
And, the issue has bipartisan traction. Republican Senate Majority Leader Tommy Norment has announced he will file a decriminalization bill when the new legislative session convenes. Earlier this week, he revealed some details of his modest proposal, which would only apply to first-time offenders.
Democratic Sen. Adam Ebbin has also filed a separate, more far-reaching decriminalization bill.
The cannabis effort could get an additional boost by Democrats’ surprising number of wins in House of Delegates elections in November. Depending on the results of two still-pending races that may be settled by litigation, the party could either have a narrow majority in the chamber, be tied with Republicans or be just a couple of seats in the minority. The GOP has a two-seat majority in the Senate, and tie votes there would be broken by the Democratic lieutenant governor.
Over the past week, legislative chambers in New Hampshire and Vermont have voted to pass marijuana legalization bills.