Lawmakers in the Virginia House and Senate voted 27-13 to back legislation that would decriminalize simple marijuana possession.
The legislative priority was pushed by the state’s Democrats and backed by Gov. Ralph Northam (D) who supports the move, essentially guaranteeing that Virginia will likely join the more than two dozen states to decriminalize low-level marijuana possession.
Gov. Northam called passage of the bill a “bold step.”
“My proposed criminal justice reform legislation and budget initiatives will combat mass incarceration, increase supports for returning citizens, and ensure meaningful second chances for those who have paid their debts to society,” Northam said.
Virginia’s Attorney General Mark Herring, a leader of cannabis reform and addressing past pot convictions, has expressed support for legalization in the past. He also praised the move.
“For too long, Virginia’s approach to cannabis has needlessly saddled Virginians, especially African Americans and people of color, with criminal records but with these votes that is finally coming to an end,” Herring said in a statement.
Meanwhile Legalization Looms in New Mexico
At the opening of the state’s Jan. 2020 legislative session, cannabis legalization bills were immediately introduced in both chambers to advance a bill to legalize recreational cannabis for adults, 21 years and older.
The legislative session ends on Feb. 20, so advocates and supportive legislators are pushing to get the measure approved before then.
“It’s time for this bill to pass,” said Sen. Jacob Candelaria, D-Albuquerque, who presented Senate Bill 115, along with several co-sponsors.
Referring to the tens of thousands of New Mexicans who use medical marijuana, which has been legal in the state since 2007, Candelaria said, “Cannabis has been legal for so many people for a long time.”
The support is there
A new Journal Poll found that sixty-one percent of adults surveyed during the first week of Feb. 2020 said they support New Mexico becoming the 12th state in the nation to legalize cannabis. Thirty three percent said they oppose the idea and the rest either had mixed feelings or declined to answer.
What the bill contains
Among other measures, the bill calls for imposing a 9 percent tax on cannabis sales and the creation of a regulatory advisory committee to develop rules for implementing the program.
That implementation plan includes coming up with a way for police to conduct an oral fluid test on motorists to gauge whether they are driving under the influence of cannabis. The bill also requires law enforcement agencies to compile an annual report on the number of arrests, citations and other violations connected to those using the drug.
Other stipulations in the bill include running cannabis education programs for middle and high school students and funding additional substance abuse treatment programs throughout the state.
Advocates for the proposal say it would provide an additional revenue stream, create some 11,000 jobs and eradicate the black market for cannabis, among other benefits.
New Mexico UPDATE
Drug Policy Alliance Statement on NM Senate Committee Tabling Marijuana Legalization Bill
February 13, 2020 – Santa Fe, NM – Below is a statement from Emily Kaltenbach, New Mexico State Director for the Drug Policy Alliance, in response to the Senate Judiciary Committee tabling the marijuana legalization bill late last night:
“We are very disappointed that a bill that would have done the right thing for New Mexicans—an overwhelming majority of which support marijuana legalization—was tabled.
As a result, the communities that have been most impacted by prohibition will continue to be left out in the cold, along with those that could have benefitted from the investment made in substance use disorder treatment and education, not to mention the boost this would have provided to New Mexico’s economy.
This fight is far from over, but it’s unfortunate that New Mexicans will have to continue to wait.”
In a statewide poll conducted in November, 73% of New Mexicans supported cannabis legalization. Support reached 90% among Democrats, and 81% among Independents. And fully 49% of Republicans supported cannabis legalization in the poll.