Virginia Marijuana law: Hardship or Necessary Justice?

January 24, 2010 -RICHMOND — When House of Delegates Republicans showed up for their daily caucus huddle and strategy session in the Capitol late last week, there was a plate of fresh brownies and a forged note waiting for them.

“Friends, Please enjoy these homemade brownies! — Harvey Morgan”

Conservative lawmakers pulled the munchies prank to tease Del. Harvey Morgan, a Gloucester pharmacist and Republican whose push to decriminalize pot possession and expand the state’s medical marijuana statute caught many political observers off guard. In his third decade in the General Assembly, Morgan comes from the classic mold of ƒè Virginia gentleman.

Morgan has taken the gentle ribbing in stride and argued that marijuana is no more harmful than alcohol or cigarettes. Morgan said he doesn’t want to see peoples’ lives and careers ruined by criminal convictions for small amounts of pot. Morgan has also offered a pocketbook argument, saying that a money-starved state budget considering teacher layoffs should overhaul the priorities of overworked police officers, judges and sheriffs.

“In this time of economic hardship, we need to examine how our tax dollars are spent,” he said. “This idea is way overdue.”

In Virginia, unlawful possession of marijuana is a misdemeanor and a jail sentence of up to 30 days. The defendant can be fined up to $500. First time offenders are often given probation by the court if they do not have any prior convictions.

If someone is arrested for distribution or possession with intent to sell, the law isn’t as lenient. If they are found with less than a half ounce of marijuana, it’s considered a misdemeanor. More than an ounce of marijuana is considered a felony. Possession of more than five pounds of marijuana is a felony punishable from between five to 30 years in prison.

Under Morgan’s bill, marijuana possession under an ounce would become a civil offense triggering a $500 fine. According to Peninsula arrest statistics, the overwhelming majority of pot busts are for simple possession rather than distribution.

Still, local law enforcement officials aren’t exactly flocking to Morgan’s proposal.

“I see so many young people use marijuana and the next thing they’re into is stealing,” Newport News Police Chief James Fox said. “Then they get involved with cocaine and heroin and their life is gone.”

Fox said the department is putting more emphasis on marijuana because the city’s last two homicides involved the drug.

When police investigated the Jan. 8 shooting death of Lloyd George Robinson, they found a small amount of marijuana. At the time of his death, witnesses told police that the person who shot the 46-year-old Robinson was after drugs.

In December, two masked men broke into Lafayette Bailey Jr.’s trailer around 4 a.m. on Spur Drive and demanded drugs. Bailey was shot to death in front of his fiancee and with his two young children in the next room. Police found marijuana in Bailey’s trailer during their investigation.

“It’s always been there, but just recently we’re seeing more of the violence and it’s concerning me,” Fox said, referring to the presence of marijuana in the city.

For many legislators, Morgan’s bills aren’t as concerning as they are toxic to re-election campaigns. Virginia has a law-and-order image — polished by abolished parole and efforts to expand capital punishment even as other states roll back the death penalty. Morgan said that lawmakers would struggle to explain charges that they “relaxed drug laws” on the trail.

“It’s very hard to respond to that during a campaign,” Morgan said.

Del. Dave Albo, R-Fairfax, is the chairman of the House Courts of Justice Committee, the first panel that will hear Morgan’s proposals. Albo said last week that Morgan’s bill will last about a “millisecond” in front of the committee stocked with attorneys who craft the state’s criminal codes.

Albo predicted that lawmakers would be especially wary of decriminalizing marijuana because over the past few decades savvy growers and aggressive drug dealers have found ways to dramatically increase the potency of their pot.

“Marijuana is different now,” Albo said. “The stuff is really powerful these days.”

Lawmakers are cautiously watching how medical marijuana programs work on the streets of other states. So far, 14 states have legalized medical marijuana and the Washington D.C. City Council appears poised to follow suit.

Parts of southern California are recognized for having an almost anything goes medical marijuana industry in recent years. Voters approved the medicinal program more than a decade ago and tiny distribution centers have flooded the state. Marijuana supporters are now pushing to legalize the drug, but there has also been blowback over the open drug trade. Los Angeles County leaders are attempting to crack down on illegally operating pot dispensaries.

Morgan stressed that he doesn’t want to legalize the drug, and any medical program would have to be strictly supervised by a physician.

“I would never ever want to see us go the route of California,” Morgan said. “Virginia is not California. Not as long as I’m here.”

By Kimball Payne and Ashley Kelly. Source.

One response to “Virginia Marijuana law: Hardship or Necessary Justice?”

  1. In this Article,Every Reason given to keep it illegal, Is also a given Reason to Legalize, IT`S PROHIBITION STUPID!!!!!! Legalize and Regulate, Eliminate it from the “Black Market” Inventory, Alcohol Prohibition did NOT work Either, Remember, Cannabis Sativa is also “Hemp” and has Thousands of Uses, So Complete Cannabis Legalization will have a more profound Positive effect on the Economy than just legalizing the psychoactive variety.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *