Pubdate: Wed, 07 Jan 2015
Source: Suffolk News-Herald (VA)
Copyright: 2015 Suffolk News-Herald
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
Delegate 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 General Assembly will again consider a marijuana decriminalization
bill in the 2015 session, this one sponsored by Sen. Adam Ebbin 

The fact that marijuana decriminalization in Virginia has been
championed by a conservative Republican from Southern Virginia and a
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. Presidential
candidates will have to support states'?? rights to win.

Political opportunism is not the best reason for Virginia legislators
to support SB 686. Legislators should support reform because it'??s
the right thing to do. Marijuana prohibition is indefensible.

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.

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.

Virginia taxpayers pay a steep price. 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 Virginia General Assembly
is grappling with a budget shortfall.

Police time spent arresting marijuana consumers is police time not
spent going after murderers, rapists and child molesters.

Sen. Adam 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 non-violent 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 come into contact with meth,
cocaine and heroin. Marijuana prohibition is a gateway drug policy.

Virginia voters should 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 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 Policy, a
nonprofit organization dedicated to reforming drug policy. Email him
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