Although he campaigned on the issue last year, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) wasn’t able to convince lawmakers to pass a bill decriminalizing marijuana by the time his first legislative session in office came to an end earlier this month.
But he’s not giving up.
“There are a lot of lives that are ruined by making mistakes and being put in jail,” he said in an interview with WTOP radio on Wednesday. “That’s something that I ran on in 2017, and there were actually some folks on both sides of the aisle that were discussing it but it didn’t happen. But we’ll continue to pursue that as we move forward.”
Q: Will you revisit marijuana decriminalization in the coming years?
— Ralph Northam (@GovernorVA) March 28, 2018
Last year, Republican Senate Majority Leader Tommy Norment made waves by endorsing decriminalization. But when the legislature convened for the 2018 session, he offered a significantly scaled back proposal that merely allowed people charged with first-time marijuana possession offenses to pay to have their records expunged.
That bill passed the Senate in February but died in committee in the House of Delegates.
Even though marijuana possession is still criminalized in the commonwealth, Northam and cannabis law reform supporters were able to enact one key change this year. This month, he signed a bill allowing doctors to recommend cannabidiol (CBD) or THC-A oil for any medical condition, a significant expansion of the state’s existing limited medical cannabis law.
In the new radio interview, Northam credited families with children who could benefit from medical cannabis for convincing lawmakers to pass the legislation by sharing their stories.
“It started with mothers and fathers of children who have intractable epilepsy,” he said.
In 2017, Northam made decriminalization a centerpiece of his election 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.”
Northam is also in favor of changing marijuana’s status under federal law.
“I think that it would be great if at the federal level they could change the schedule of marijuana so that we can get more data on it – do more research,” he told Rolling Stone last month. “I remind people all the time that probably over 100 medicines that we use routinely in health care come from plants, so let’s be a little bit more open minded and look at potential uses for medicinal marijuana.”
Virginia’s second-largest city, Norfolk, added marijuana decriminalization to its official statewide legislative agenda in January.
AOC Calls For Decriminalizing The Use Of All Drugs
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) voiced support for decriminalizing the use of all drugs on Sunday.
The freshman congresswoman tweeted that drug decriminalization, as well as marijuana legalization, are “matters of public health.”
Marijuana should be legalized, and drug consumption should be decriminalized.
These are matters of public health.
— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) November 18, 2019
This marks a development in Ocasio-Cortez’s drug policy platform. Previously, she called for decriminalizing the use and research of psychedelics, emphasizing the therapeutic potential of the substances.
To that end, she introduced an amendment to a spending bill in June that would remove a rider that advocates argue has inhibited research into the potential therapeutic benefits of Schedule I drugs such as psilocybin and LSD. The House rejected that measure in a floor vote, however.
There’s a growing push to decriminalize the personal possession of drugs beyond cannabis. South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI), both Democratic presidential candidates, are in favor of the policy. Entrepreneur Andrew Yang supports decriminalizing opioids as a means to combat the drug overdose crisis.
Ocasio-Cortez recently gave her endorsement to Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT). But while the senator was the first major presidential candidate to back marijuana legalization during his 2016 run, he said this year he’s “not there yet” on broader drug decriminalization. It’s not clear if the congresswoman’s role as a surrogate on his campaign will ultimately influence him to adopt the policy.
But as more candidates debate the best way forward on various drug reform proposals, with cannabis legalization being a given for almost all contenders, former Vice President Joe Biden remains several paces behind. He opposes adult-use legalization and said on Saturday that marijuana may be a gateway to other, more dangerous substances.
Photo courtesy of C-SPAN.
Key Congressional Committee Officially Schedules Vote On Marijuana Legalization Bill
A key House committee has officially announced that a vote on a comprehensive marijuana legalization bill is scheduled for this week.
The House Judiciary Committee said on Monday that the panel will mark up legislation introduced by Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), which would federally deschedule cannabis and address social equity, on Wednesday at 10:00 AM ET. The announcement confirms what sources familiar with the planned development told Marijuana Moment last week.
Nadler’s Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act has been lauded by advocates for its emphasis on restorative justice for communities most impacted by the drug war.
It calls for a five percent federal tax on marijuana sales, and that revenue would be used to fund programs such as job training, legal aid for those affected by prohibition and small business loans for individuals who are socially and economically disadvantaged. The bill also seeks to lift barriers to licensing and employment in the industry.
Additionally, the legislation would expunge the records of those with prior cannabis convictions, provide for resentencing, block federal agencies from denying public benefits or security clearances as a result of marijuana use and protect immigrants from being denied citizenship over cannabis.
Committee on the Judiciary – DemocratsH.R. 5038, the “Farm Workforce Modernization Act of 2019”; H.R. 3884, the “Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act of 2019” or the “MORE Act of 2019”; H.R. ___, the “Satellite Television Community Prot… https://t.co/v4pSa4OVgR
— House Committee Press Releases (@PressreleaseB) November 18, 2019
“A supermajority of Americans, including majorities of Democrats, Republicans, and independents, support regulating the use of marijuana by responsible adults,” NORML Political Director Justin Strekal said in a press release. “Thanks to the leadership of the House Judiciary chairman, never in history have we been closer to ending the failed policy of marijuana criminalization and providing pathways to opportunity for our brothers and sisters who have suffered under its oppressive reign.”
“The MORE Act is the most comprehensive marijuana policy reform bill ever introduced in Congress and is backed by a broad coalition of civil rights, criminal justice, drug policy, and immigration groups. Those who oppose this legislation moving forward are defenders of a failed status-quo that ruins the lives of otherwise law-abiding adults on a daily basis, overwhelming enforced against the poor and communities of color.”
Text of an amendment in the nature of a substitute from Nadler that Judiciary members will take up was also released on Monday. It includes a new “findings” section that discusses racial disparities in marijuana enforcement, the growing state-level legalization movement and the challenges that individuals from disadvantaged communities face in participating in the market.
“The communities that have been most harmed by cannabis prohibition are benefiting the least from the legal marijuana marketplace,” one provision reads. “A legacy of racial and ethnic injustices, compounded by the disproportionate collateral consequences of 80 years of cannabis prohibition enforcement, now limits participation in the industry.
Much of the language of the new section is borrowed from a resolution that Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA), co-chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, introduced last year.
“The data speaks for itself—low-income communities and communities of color have disproportionately borne the brunt of the devastation brought on by marijuana prohibition,” Queen Adesuyi, policy manager of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance, said in a press release. “The MORE Act is the most robust bipartisan legislation so far not only to end federal marijuana prohibition, but also to ensure that the communities that have been hardest hit by prohibition are not left behind.”
“It would be a tragic mistake to have the only marijuana reform bill that passes this Congress be one that solely benefits the industry, despite both the unprecedented support for legalization nationally amongst Americans and all the harm that we know federal prohibition has caused to individuals and communities across this country,” she said. “Fortunately, by ensuring the MORE Act moves forward, several leaders in the House are showing that they understand that this is a matter of fundamental justice that the US Congress needs to address.”
BIG NEWS: @HouseJudiciary will meet Wednesday to vote on the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment & Expungement Act.
Good. It's past time to address the decades of harm faced by communities of color & low-income communities due to failed marijuana policies. https://t.co/4glbu733Dq
— The Leadership Conference (@civilrightsorg) November 18, 2019
Advocates have been eagerly awaiting a committee vote on the MORE Act, especially since the House overwhelmingly passed a bill to protect banks that service the cannabis industry in September. Some groups, including the ACLU, had implored leadership to delay the banking vote until the chamber passed legislation like the MORE Act that addresses social equity.
Committee members on both sides of the aisle will be able to introduce amendments to the legislation, but it’s generally expected to advance out of the panel and onto the floor. That said, its fate in the Republican-controlled Senate is far from certain.
Read the full text of the new amendment to the MORE Act below:
Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.
Biden Says Marijuana Might Be A Gateway Drug
Former Vice President Joe Biden (D) said on Saturday that he’s not sure if marijuana is a gateway drug that leads to the use of other, more dangerous substances.
“The truth of the matter is, there’s not nearly been enough evidence that has been acquired as to whether or not it is a gateway drug,” the 2020 presidential candidate claimed at a town hall meeting in Las Vegas. “It’s a debate, and I want a lot more before I legalize it nationally. I want to make sure we know a lot more about the science behind it.”
(Marijuana Moment’s editor provides some content to Forbes via a temporary exclusive publishing license arrangement.)