The new year is off to a big start for marijuana proponents. With a hugely successful 2014 in the past, activists have already started major campaigns to spread weed reform in 2015.
Efforts are underway to give Florida voters a second chance to approve medical weed. The first attempt failed in November because it didn’t win the necessary 60 percent vote. Fifty-eight percent supported the initiative.
Now, advocates have launched a push for cannabis reform in Virginia, a state with especially harsh anti-pot laws. Their hope to decriminalize cannabis in the state is a long-shot at best, but the fact that advocates are trying so soon after the election can only be a good sign.
Virginia State Sen. Adam Ebbin, a Democrat, has filed a bill that would remove criminal penalties for simple possession in the state. Currently, people convicted of minor marijuana crimes face jail time, a six-month driver’s license suspension, and a permanent criminal record that must be disclosed to prospective employers.
Like many other states, police in Virginia arrest black suspects on weed charges at a far greater rate than they arrest white suspects. The two groups use the drug at essentially equal rates.
“We cannot continue to hide behind a fear of a plant in our criminal code,” Ebbin said in late January. “What’s important is this has never been discussed in the Virginia Senate in a decriminalization way, and it needs to be.”
But Ebbin acknowledged that the bill probably won’t make it past the Republicans who control the state senate. This is how reform efforts often work: Initial tactics fail, followed a few years later by a more successful attempt. Eventually activists pile up enough wins to change the face of local cannabis law.
Big year ahead for pro-weed politics
Importantly, the quick actions in Virginia, Florida, and a few other places hint that 2015 could be another banner year for pro-weed politics.
Last year culminated with several cannabis elections across the country. Oregon and Alaska both voted to legalize recreational pot, as did the residents of Washington, D.C. Legalization has been delayed indefinitely in the District, but in Oregon and Alaska retail weed should go on sale by the end of 2016.
Ebbin said that he has already run into opposition from police groups, including the Fraternal Order of Police in Virginia. He said decriminalization is a matter of fairness to Virginians, both black and white.
Ed McCann, a representative of the state’s branch of NORML, said the state’s anti-weed laws have failed to stop the black market, despite 20,000 arrests a year on marijuana charges.
If lawmakers want to keep pot away from kids, he said, they should at least decriminalize the drug, if not legalize and regulate it. Prohibition certainly isn’t doing the job, he said.
“So what is our message to kids?” McCann asked. “It’s simple: Don’t use cannabis. It’s an adult activity – like alcohol, sex, and lobbying.”