Virginia Legalizes Marijuana

My home state has become the first in the South to join the trend.

Vox (“Virginia just legalized marijuana“):

Virginia lawmakers on Wednesday enacted a marijuana legalization law, making the state the first in the South to legalize cannabis.

Under the law, adults 21 and older will be able to use and grow marijuana, starting in July. The state will also launch a legal, regulated market, with an expected launch in 2024. And it lets people with past marijuana convictions request lower penalties or for their records to be sealed.

Revenue from a new excise tax on marijuana will go toward education programs, equity initiatives, addiction treatment, and public health services.

The legislation came after a contentious, but relatively quick, legislative process. Gov. Ralph Northam (D) publicly backed marijuana legalization in November. After some back-and-forth, the Virginia House and Senate passed bills legalizing pot in February. Northam responded approvingly, but with amendments to the legislation. The legislature then approved the amendments, allowing the legislation to take effect with no further action from Northam.

[…]

Virginia already allowed marijuana use for medical purposes, starting with a 2015 law that has been expanded over time. The new law expands legalization to recreational and other nonmedical uses.

Marijuana remains illegal under federal law. But starting with former President Barack Obama’s administration, the federal government has generally allowed states to legalize cannabis with minimal federal interference.

With Virginia’s law, 16 states and Washington, DC, have now legalized marijuana for recreational purposes, although DC doesn’t allow recreational sales. (South Dakota voters approved a ballot initiative to legalize cannabis in November, but that measure’s future is uncertain as it’s caught up in legal battles.)

One would think the Feds would follow suit, especially since so many of its employees are subject to dual legal standards.

Regardless, two things strike me as odd here. First, now that the legislature and governor have signaled that they wish to legalize marijuana use, it would be simply unconscionable to arrest people under the old law between now and July. Second and relatedly, it seems like a no-brainer that anyone who is currently in prison or awaiting adjudication for simple possession of marijuana in Virginia should be immediately pardoned or otherwise have their liberty restored and records cleared. Yes, it was illegal when they did it. But, given that the social mores have changed, we should treat them under current standards.

FILED UNDER: Drug Policy, Law and the Courts, US Politics
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Teve says:

    I confess I didn’t even know that was in the works. Awesome.

    ETA it’s high time (ha!) that it gets federally legalized.

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  2. RICHARD E GARDNER says:

    It’ll soon become all about the $$$. In WA the state tax revenue is over $100/resident ($883M), and 2% of the state budget ($172M more than liquor taxes). Right now most (all?) “legalized” states restrict production to within their boundaries, but if Federally legalized that restriction could run afoul of the Commerce Clause (I’m sorry, you can only buy beer produced in Alabama…). Meanwhile there are all the drug dealers thrown out of a “job” (BIPOC? Equity! No, issue is what will they transition into dealing, like harder drugs – few will transition into the legal MJ business). The legal states need legal banking though, all cash is a problem.

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  3. John430 says:

    WA state is collecting data on the number of times they stop a vehicle for suspected DUI. Some testing reveals being stoned is gonna be a big issue when added to alcohol and other impairments.

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  4. That means legalization has advanced in three states — New York, New Jersey, and Virginia — have legalized marijuana in the course of the past week.

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  5. Sleeping Dog says:

    Pot growers in Maine and Massachusetts are already fretting the day that the Feds drop the prohibition and and they need to compete with the cheap, wonderful ganga from Humboldt County, CA.

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  6. Michael Reynolds says:

    @John430:

    Research:

    In summary, laboratory tests and driving studies show that cannabis may acutely impair several driving-related skills in a dose-related fashion, but that the effects between individuals vary more than they do with alcohol because of tolerance, differences in smoking technique, and different absorptions of THC. Driving and simulator studies show that detrimental effects vary in a dose-related fashion, and are more pronounced with highly automatic driving functions, but more complex tasks that require conscious control are less affected, which is the opposite pattern from that seen with alcohol. Because of both this and an increased awareness that they are impaired, marijuana smokers tend to compensate effectively for their impairment by utilizing a variety of behavioral strategies such as driving more slowly, passing less, and leaving more space between themselves and cars in front of them. Combining marijuana with alcohol eliminates the ability to use such strategies effectively, however, and results in impairment even at doses that would be insignificant were they of either drug alone. Case-control studies are inconsistent, but suggest that while low concentrations of THC do not increase the rate of accidents, and may even decrease them, serum concentrations of THC higher than 5 ng/mL are associated with an increased risk of accidents (Figure 2). Overall, though, case-control and culpability studies have been inconclusive, a determination reached by several other recent reviewers.101, 102 Similar disagreement has never existed in the literature on alcohol use and crash risk.103

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  7. Kurtz says:

    @John430:

    I’m sure you’re busy trying to figure out why you make that argument, yet are totally cool with the existence of bars.

    We can’t legalize pot, but it’s fine that we allow people to drive to a business, consume as much alcohol as they want, and then drive back home. And yes, I realize there are technically restrictions–it’s illegal in most places to overserve or serve an intoxicated person–but in practice, the incentives for everyone are to just serve the drink. And enforcement is lax.

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  8. Teve says:

    @Kurtz: Many many years ago I got a misdemeanor DUI and had to take group counseling sessions to get my license back. One of the things the instructor said was that it was estimated that people on average drive drunk 700-800 times for every time they get caught.

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  9. mattbernius says:

    James wrote:

    First, now that the legislature and governor have signaled that they wish to legalize marijuana use, it would be simply unconscionable to arrest people under the old law between now and July. Second and relatedly, it seems like a no-brainer that anyone who is currently in prison or awaiting adjudication for simple possession of marijuana in Virginia should be immediately pardoned or otherwise have their liberty restored and records cleared.

    100% this is a huge issue. Though some of this may be covered by some of the automatic clean slate laws that VA is enacting. Either way the correct thing to do is to is to grandfather the legislation and release still being held and clear past records. And VA’s data structures should allow this.

    Which gets to…
    @RICHARD E GARDNER:

    Meanwhile there are all the drug dealers thrown out of a “job” (BIPOC? Equity! No, issue is what will they transition into dealing, like harder drugs – few will transition into the legal MJ business).

    This is a super important point, namely that communities that have been disproportionately impacted by the war on drugs are often not accounted for in legislation. I know that’s been an issue in New York where folks were actively asking “why should Black and POC Communities have the opportunity to get a disproportionate amount of licenses and/or distribution of funds… isn’t that reverse racism?!”

    The legal states need legal banking though, all cash is a problem.

    100%–for those who are not familiar with this issue, in many states, due to its illegality at the Federal Level, legal pot growers don’t have access to traditional banking (who are concerned about Federal prosecutions).

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  10. flat earth luddite says:

    Please release my last comment. I’m sorry, I forgot that even mentioning another website seems to get my comment sequestered. I promise not to mention Findlaw again, ok?

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  11. flat earth luddite says:

    @mattbernius:
    Matt, an excellent resource on this can be found at Findlaw. Can Marijuana Dispensaries Use Traditional Banks?, 4/21/2020. I’d note that the last time I checked in Oregon, there is exactly ONE credit union that will do business with MJ dispensaries, and the fees are ‘ruinously’ high (sorry). Dispensaries are frequently robbery targets because of the cash nature, and taxes have to be transported to state offices and paid in cash.

    James, excellent article. Thought provoking. FYI my first thesis proposal was, IIRC, titled “Consequences of Legalization and Taxation of Illegal Drugs.” Nixon was president.

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  12. de stijl says:

    Marijuana is not my drug of choice. It makes me more anxious rather than less.

    However, legalization is a civic good. Especially if paired with retroactive sentence nullification of personal use level arrests and convictions.

    Weed as a mood altering drug does not work me, but it works very well for many people. I am the outlier.

    If I were alone in a hypothetical urban back alley I would be delighted if I ran into a high guy over a drunk guy.

    Have a nice talk about stuff and a nice warm hug after. Instead of belligerent aggression. In vino veritas: booze makes people prone towards aggression more aggressive.

    Most of my friends cannot figure how I am not a ganja guy. I seem to be the type.

    Next step: magic shrooms. I am an assured advocate of that, my friend.

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  13. mattbernius says:

    @flat earth luddite:
    Great find and this is a huge issue.

    It’s also one where I have very few hopes that Biden is going to move the needle without a tipping point number of states adopting legalization. This is such a generational issue (and Biden is on the wrong side of that divide–astute politician or not).

    I know someone who was relatively high up in Hillary’s campaign (mid-tier, not executive level) and a big frustration was the fact she apparently wouldn’t even consider the possibility of marijuana legalization (which a bunch of team members felt, beyond being good policy, would have swayed the election). If H wasn’t open to it, I don’t see Biden embracing it either.

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  14. JohnSF says:

    @de stijl:
    Similar.
    I’ve always been fine with weed if among friends in controlled situations e.g. at somebodies house or flat; but in, say, a pub tends to make me nervy.
    Also, dope in my experience makes all alcohol taste one step along from cat pee.
    And I like ale and wine and malt whisky (not all at the same time LOL) too damn much to make the trade.

    But also, I’ve known more people wreck their lives with alcohol than with weed.

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  15. de stijl says:

    @JohnSF:

    I am not a fan of the hacky-sack type dudes, but if I check myself, they are are doing their thing and not bothering others. Benign if misguided.

    Alcohol, on the other hand, has wrecked more lives amongst my social circle than any other drug. The tricky thing is people cope until they cannot any longer and the precipice is steep and scary.

    When drunkies fall, the fall is abrupt and shocking. Some functional alcoholics manage a slow decline, but that is rare.

    Usually it is a brutal descent. And a hard climb back up.

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