RICHMOND, Va. (March 2, 2021) – On Friday, the Virginia House and Senate gave final approval that would set the stage to legalize marijuana in the state despite federal cannabis prohibition.
Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria) and Sen. Louise Lucas (D-Portsmouth) introduced Senate Bill 1406 (SB1406) on Jan. 13. Del. Charniele Herring (D-Alexandria) along with a large coalition of Democrats introduced the House companion, House Bill 2312 (HB2312), the following week. The legislation would legalize marijuana for adult use, despite ongoing federal cannabis prohibition.
Under the proposed law, adults 21 and older could purchase and possess up to 1 ounce of marijuana and cultivate up to four plants without penalty. The legislation would also create a regulatory scheme for the commercial cultivation and retail sale of cannabis. The proposed law would establish an independent agency called the Virginia Cannabis Control Authority to establish a regulatory structure for the adult-use market. Under the compromise reached by a joint legislative committee, legalization would not go into effect until Jan. 1, 2024. It would also be required to pass a second vote by the assembly next year.
The House passed the joint committee’s compromise bills 48-43 and the Senate approved the measures 20-19. The bills will now go to Gov. Ralph Northam’s desk for his signature.
NORML Development Director Jenn Michelle Pedini called the passage of SB1406/HB2312 “a work in progress.”
“Our efforts in Virginia are far from over. NORML is dedicated to continuing our work with lawmakers and regulators to advance legislative reforms that are most closely aligned with the views of the majority of Virginians who desire a safe, legal cannabis market. In particular, we hope to expedite the timeline with which Virginia adults will no longer face either criminal or civil penalties for the personal possession and cultivation of cannabis.”
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.
Gov. Northam will have seven (7) days from the date the bill is transmitted to his office to sign or veto the bill. If he takes no action, it will become law without his signature.