The Virginia GOP Should Lead on Marijuana Reform

Here’s to U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) for showing Virginia Republicans how they might be able to embrace marijuana reform.

Just to be clear: McConnell isn’t pushing a breakthrough federal marijuana bill. Instead, he’s doing something almost as important with industrial hemp. The product has a wide variety of uses and applications but has long been on the federal naughty list. McConnell used his place on the conference committee shaping the federal farm bill to get hemp off that list and back into legal production.

For McConnell, the move tics a few boxes: Hemp can replace tobacco as a cash crop for Kentucky farmers, and the United States can ease up on its hemp imports. And he plans to make legalizing hemp production a big part of his 2020 reelection bid.

So that’s all good for McConnell and his Kentucky constituents. What does it have to do with Virginia Republicans?

It shows they were on to something when they made those earlier steps allowing hemp to be grown and harvested for research purposes — and much more if federal law allowed it.

If the president agrees, then the law will change. Good — because that means Virginia farmers can now get back into the business George Washington knew well.

But Virginia Republicans should look beyond hemp toward its more potent — and illegal — cousin: marijuana.

Ideally, they would legalize it for medical and recreational use as voters have done in states such as California, Colorado, Maine and Michigan or as the Vermont legislature did in 2018.

Or they could opt to legalize marijuana for medical purposes, as West Virginia and Maryland did.

The General Assembly approved the use of cannabidiol oils in 2018, and that qualified as a major step toward a more humane drug policy.

But even that advance wasn’t without its hang-ups, as patients and their doctors are required to leap through a number of byzantine hoops to obtain treatment.

The obstacles are much higher elsewhere. Sen. Thomas K. Norment Jr. (R-James City) toyed with the idea in the 2018 session, proposing a very modest marijuana decriminalization bill for first-time offenders.

He withdrew it from consideration.

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