RICHMOND, Va. (Jan. 25, 2021) – Last Friday, a Virginia Senate committee passed a bill that would legalize marijuana in the state despite federal prohibition.
Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria) and Sen. Louise Lucas (D-Portsmouth) introduced Senate Bill 1406 (SB1406) on Jan. 13. The legislation would legalize marijuana for adult use. Under the proposed law, adults 21 and older could purchase and possess up to 1 ounce of marijuana and cultivate up to four plants. The legislation would also create a regulatory scheme for the commercial cultivation and retail sale of cannabis. A newly created independent agency would have rulemaking authority and would be responsible for issuing licenses.
On Jan. 22, the Senate Rehabilitation and Social Services Committee passed SB1406 with some amendments by an 8-7 vote.
SB1406 also includes expungement provisions. People with prior marijuana convictions would have their records automatically expunged. Individuals currently serving sentences for cannabis-related offenses would have a process to petition for a resentencing hearing.
Amendments included the addition of safety awareness and best practices guidance provisions for homegrown cannabis. Another amendment stipulated that local jurisdictions would have to opt out of allowing cannabis businesses to operate in their areas. The original language required local jurisdictions to opt in.
Gov. Northam participated in the unveiling of the bill and has expressed support for marijuana legalization.
EFFECT ON 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.
The legalization of marijuana for personal use in Virginia would take the next step and removes another layer of laws prohibiting the possession and use of marijuana in the state even though federal prohibition would remain in effect. This is significant because 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.
A GROWING MOVEMENT
Virginia is one of 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. Michigan followed suit when voters legalized cannabis for general use in 2018. Vermont became the first state to legalize marijuana through a legislative act in 2018. Illinois followed suit in 2019. During the November election, Arizona, Montana, South Dakota and New Jersey legalized marijuana for recreational use.
With 36 states including allowing cannabis for medical use, and 15 legalizing for adult recreational 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.
The push to legalize marijuana for personal use in Virginia demonstrates another important strategic reality. Once a state legalizes marijuana – even if only in a very limited way for medical purposes – it tends to eventually expand. As the state tears down some barriers, markets develop and demand grows. That creates pressure to further relax state law. These new laws represent a further erosion of unconstitutional federal marijuana prohibition.
SB1406 now moves to the Senate Judiciary Committee where it must pass by a majority vote before moving forward in the legislative process.
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