On Wednesday afternoon, the Senate Courts of Justice Committee will consider SB 686, Alexandria Senator Adam Ebbin’s bill to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana. Also on Wednesday, Delegate David Albo’s bill (HB 1445) on medicinal marijuana is on the docket of the criminal justice subcommittee of the House Courts of Justice Committee.
These committee meetings come on the heels of a Christopher Newport University poll of Virginia voters that shows overwhelming public support for both decriminalization of recreational marijuana and permission for sick people to use medical marijuana to treat their diseases. (Albo’s bill merely adds epilepsy to a short list of diseases already noted in Virginia law as possibly being treatable with cannabinoids. Current law permits an affirmative health care defense for people charged with marijuana possession but does not legalize or decriminalize such possession. Yes, it’s ambiguous.)
According to a summary of the poll’s findings:
Medical Marijuana and Marijuana Decriminalization: A strong majority (69%) of Virginia voters say they would support legalizing marijuana for medical purposes (Q22), with broad support across demographic and regional categories. Self-identified conservatives and Republicans are least supportive, but a majority of both (55% and 52%) say they support it. Overall, a similar majority (71%) support decriminalizing the possession of small amounts of marijuana, with similar broad support across demographic and regional categories, and less but still majority support among conservatives and Republicans. On both questions, there is a clear age difference in views toward marijuana, with voters under 45 about 15% more supportive of loosening state law than voters over 45; nevertheless, voters over 45 are still overwhelmingly supportive of relaxing the state’s marijuana laws.
“The Virginia electorate appears to be ready to move on from the drug wars, at least as it relates to marijuana: to accept medical marijuana and to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana. These views are in line with public opinion nationally, which sees the possession and use of marijuana as less a public policy problem than perhaps it once was,” said [CNU political scientist Quentin] Kidd.
It’s noteworthy that even “self-identified conservatives and Republicans” support legalizing medical marijuana. Question 23 of the survey, which asks about decriminalization in general, shows that 54 percent of conservatives and 52 percent of Republicans support the idea.
Four years ago, former Delegate Harvey Morgan (R-Gloucester), a retired pharmacist, introduced legislation similar to Ebbin’s bill. The effort failed but Morgan told me at the time that “almost everyone thinks it’s the right thing to do. Many people say legalize it and tax it” in addition to decriminalizing it. He added that he foresaw wider support emerging because “the cost — not only to the individual but the cost to our court system — is unbelievable with marijuana enforcement.”
Two years ago, while he was running for governor, former Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli also expressed interest in the federalism implications of states’ decriminalization efforts.
Cuccinelli said with regard to legalization of recreational pot in Colorado and Washington that he was “ready to watch and learn. I’m not ready to do it [legalize marijuana] but I don’t want to just never ever say never to the possibility in the future.”
Were Ken Cuccinelli and Harvey Morgan among the conservative Republicans polled by CNU?