Pubdate: Sat, 29 Nov 2014
Source: Richmond Times-Dispatch (VA)
Copyright: 2014 Media General Communications Holdings, LLC.
Author: Frank Green


A bill that would decriminalize the possession of an ounce or less of 
marijuana has been introduced by state Sen. Adam P. Ebbin, 
D-Alexandria, for the coming General Assembly session.

The effort comes on the heels of legalization in two other states. 
Ebbin said there have been unsuccessful bills introduced in the 
Virginia House of Delegates in the past, but that this is the first 
he is aware of coming from the Senate.

"It would decriminalize simple possession of an ounce or less, but 
not decriminalize it to the extent done recently in Colorado and 
Washington state," he said.

"I had requests to do it for a number of years, and I decided this 
year to go ahead," Ebbin said. "There's about 25 million Americans 
who smoked marijuana in the past year, and our public policy should 
start to reflect reality and not deny it."

Edward McCann, policy director for Virginia NORML, which advocates 
for the legalization of marijuana, said he thinks chances are better 
than even the bill will get out of the Senate's Courts of Justice committee.

"This is not just a conversation starter; we need to pass this bill," 
McCann said. "We've been talking to many of the members. ... I think 
there is general support for the core of the bill, which is removing 
criminal penalties for people who possess small amounts - even from 

McCann said that aside from his group, the legislation is supported 
by the ACLU and the NAACP, among others. "They are much more 
organized than they were a few years ago," he said.

Ebbin's bill, sponsored in the House by state Del. Kaye Kory, 
D-Fairfax, would decriminalize simple possession of less than an 
ounce of marijuana, now punishable by a $500 fine and 30 days in 
jail, to a maximum $100 civil fine payable to the state literary fund.

Among other things, the bill also would reduce the criminal penalties 
for distribution and possession with the intent to distribute by 
creating a presumption that a person who grows no more than six 
plants would be raising them for personal use.

Additionally, it would soften some laws concerning marijuana 
paraphernalia and limit the forfeiture of property from the sale or 
distribution of 1 pound or more of marijuana - currently there is no 
minimum amount.

According to recent figures from the FBI, police across the country 
made nearly 700,000 arrests for violations of marijuana laws in 2013, 
roughly 56,000 fewer than reported in 2012.

That continues a steady decline in arrests for marijuana since 2007, 
when police made a record 872,721 marijuana arrests, according to NORML.

Virginia State Police figures show that in 2013, there were 24,776 
marijuana arrests in the state, the bulk of them for people under the 
age of 30. A disproportionate number of those arrested were African-American.

"The criminalization of possession of small amounts of marijuana 
ruins far more lives than it impacts in any kind of positive ways," Ebbin said.

McCann said there are a number of provisions in Ebbin's bill that may 
give some legislators pause. "But I'm confident that we will get it 
out of committee," he said.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom