RICHMOND, Va. (March 27, 2019) – Last week, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam signed two bills into law that expand the states medicinal cannabis program. Enactment of this law takes another step toward nullifying federal marijuana prohibition in effect.
Sen. David Marsden (D-Burke) sponsored Senate Bill 1719 (SB1719). The new law allows medical marijuana patients to designate another person to act as their registered agents for the purposes of receiving medicinal cannabis. This will make it easier for patients in rehabilitation centers, hospice, or those physically unable to drive to obtain medical marijuana. The new law also expands the pool of people authorized to perform marijuana cultivation-related duties.
Sen. Siobhan S. Dunnavant (R-Henrico) sponsored Senate Bill 1557 (SB1557). Under the new law, licensed physician assistants and licensed nurse practitioners will be authorized to issue a written certification for the use of medicinal cannabis. Under the current law, only licensed physicians can issue the certifications.
FROM MODEST BEGINNINGS
Virginia legalized medicinal cannabis oils in 2015, but only for patients suffering from seizures due to intractable epilepsy. Although the program was extremely limited, the passage of that law set the foundation for future action.
Last year, the state expanded the program to allow physicians to recommend medicinal cannabis for patients suffering from any condition.
Passage of SB1719 and SB1557 represents a further expansion of the law.
The history of medicinal cannabis in Virginia demonstrates an important reality. In the past, some activists have actively opposed limited measures such as the initial 2015 medicinal cannabis law in Virginia arguing that they don’t go far enough. But once a state puts laws in place legalizing cannabis, they tend to eventually expand. As the state tears down some barriers, markets develop and demand grows. That creates pressure to further relax state law. Passing bills that take a step forward sets the stage, even if they aren’t perfect. Opening the door clears the way for additional steps. You can’t take the second step before you take the first.
EFFECT ON FEDERAL PROHIBITION
Passage of SB1719 and SB1557 will also continue to expand the availability of medical marijuana across the country despite ongoing federal prohibition.
Under the federal Controlled Substances Act (CSA) passed in 1970, the federal government maintains complete prohibition of marijuana. Of course, the federal government lacks any constitutional authority to ban or regulate cannabis within the borders of a state, despite the opinion of the politically connected lawyers on the Supreme Court. If you doubt this, ask yourself why it took a constitutional amendment to institute federal alcohol prohibition.
Virginia’s medicinal cannabis program removes one layer of laws prohibiting the possession and use of marijuana, but federal prohibition remains in place.
FBI statistics show that law enforcement makes approximately 99 of 100 marijuana arrests under state, not federal law. When states stop enforcing marijuana laws, they sweep away most of the basis for 99 percent of marijuana arrests.
Furthermore, figures indicate it would take 40 percent of the DEA’s yearly-budget just to investigate and raid all of the dispensaries in Los Angeles – a single city in a single state. That doesn’t include the cost of prosecution. The lesson? The feds lack the resources to enforce marijuana prohibition without state assistance.
Passage of SB1719 and SB1557 further undermines prohibition make it that much more difficult for the federal government to enforce it in Virginia.
A GROWING MOVEMENT
Virginia joins a growing number of states simply ignoring federal prohibition, and nullifying it in practice.
Colorado, Washington state, Oregon and Alaska were the first states to legalize recreational cannabis, and California, Nevada, Maine and Massachusetts joined them after ballot initiatives in favor of legalization passed in November 2016. In 2018, Vermont became the first state to legalize marijuana through a legislative act. and Michigan passed a ballot measure legalizing cannabis for general use.
With 33 states including Virginia allowing cannabis for medical use, the feds find themselves in a position where they simply can’t enforce prohibition anymore.
“The lesson here is pretty straightforward. When enough people say, ‘No!’ to the federal government, and enough states pass laws backing those people up, there’s not much the feds can do to shove their so-called laws, regulations or mandates down our throats,” Tenth Amendment Center founder and executive director Michael Boldin said.
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