Pubdate: Fri, 19 Dec 2014
Source: Richmond Times-Dispatch (VA)
Copyright: 2014 Media General Communications Holdings, LLC.
Author: Robert Sharpe


The last time a marijuana decriminalization bill was introduced in the 
Virginia General Assembly the year was 2011 and the patron was Del. 
Harvey Morgan, R-Gloucester, a former assistant clinical professor of 
pharmacy at Virginia Commonwealth University's medical school. The bill 
never made it out of committee. The Virginia General Assembly will again 
consider a marijuana decriminalization bill in the 2015 session, this 
one sponsored by Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria).

The fact that marijuana decriminalization in Virginia has been 
championed by a conservative Republican from Southern Virginia and 
liberal Democrat from Northern Virginia is telling. Marijuana law reform 
is a bipartisan issue supported by a majority of Americans.

The public opinion trend lines are clear. Politicians who fail to 
embrace reform will find themselves on the wrong side of history. This 
will play out in the 2016 presidential elections. Voters in Colorado, 
Washington, Alaska and Oregon have all passed ballot initiatives to tax 
and regulate marijuana like alcohol. Presidential candidates will have 
to support states' rights if they want to win.

Political opportunism is not the best reason for Virginia legislators to 
support SB 686 in the upcoming General Assembly session. Legislators 
should support reform because it's the right thing to do. Marijuana 
prohibition is indefensible. The big-government nanny state is a proven 
failure. If the goal of marijuana prohibition is to subsidize violent 
drug cartels and open a gateway to the hard drugs they sell, prohibition 
is a grand success. The drug war distorts supply and demand dynamics so 
that big money grows on little trees. If the goal is to deter use, 
marijuana prohibition is a catastrophic failure. The United States has 
almost double the lifetime rate of marijuana use as the Netherlands 
where marijuana has been legally available for decades.

At a time when state budget reductions are on the horizon again, 
Virginia continues to waste limited public resources enforcing punitive 
marijuana laws passed in ignorance.

Original drug czar Harry Anslinger was able to ensure passage of the 
federal Marihuana Tax Act of 1937 by making outrageous claims such as 
"reefer makes darkies think they're as good as white men" and "marijuana 
is the most violence-causing drug in the history of mankind."

This type of reefer madness is the reason marijuana is illegal. The 
criminalization of citizens who prefer marijuana to martinis has no 
basis in science. The war on marijuana consumers is a failed cultural 
inquisition, not an evidence-based public health campaign. When 
marijuana was first made illegal, few Americans had heard the word 
marijuana, much less smoked it. In the early 1900s marijuana use was 
largely limited to Mexican migrant laborers and black jazz musicians in 
New Orleans. White Americans did not begin to use marijuana in 
significant numbers until after our federal government began funding 
reefer madness propaganda. If anything, marijuana prohibition has 
increased marijuana use by creating forbidden fruit appeal. This played 
out big time in the rebellious 1960s when marijuana use among white 
American baby boomers rose dramatically.

Marijuana prohibition is the epitome of government failure; Virginia 
taxpayers are paying a steep price. Marijuana arrests are up in Virginia 
for the fourth year in a row. According to the 2013 Crime in Virginia 
report issued by the Virginia State Police, there were 24,776 marijuana 
arrests in 2013. Eight percent of all Virginia arrests in 2013 were for 
marijuana offenses.

That's a bizarre use of limited public safety resources at a time when 
the General Assembly is grappling with a budget shortfall. Let's not 
forget that police time spent arresting marijuana consumers is police 
time not spent going after murderers, rapists and child molesters.

Ebbin's marijuana decriminalization bill is a long overdue step in the 
right direction. If passed into law, SB 686 would free up police 
resources, spare nonviolent marijuana consumers lifelong criminal 
records and incentivize personal-use cultivation. Personal-use 
cultivation has the potential to undermine the influence of Mexican drug 
cartels in Virginia. As long as drug cartels control marijuana 
distribution, consumers will continue to come into contact with meth, 
cocaine and heroin. Marijuana prohibition is a gateway drug policy.

Virginia voters need to contact their state senators and delegates and 
let them know they want to see SB 686 passed into law. For far too long, 
culture warriors in the Virginia General Assembly have gotten away with 
confusing the drug war's tremendous collateral damage with a 
comparatively harmless plant.

Those days are over. The people are way ahead of the politicians. The 
people nonetheless need to prod politicians on this issue. Virginia 
cannot afford to continue subsidizing the prejudices of culture warriors.

Robert Sharpe is a policy analyst at Common Sense for Drug
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