FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
January 7th, 2016
Virginia NORML Unites Strong Bipartisan Coalition to Lobby General Assembly for Marijuana Decriminalization
RICHMOND, VA: The Virginia chapters of NORML, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws and RAMP, Republicans Against Marijuana Prohibition will join forces to lobby the General Assembly in Richmond on January 14th at 8:30 a.m. Advocates from around the state will meet with legislators in support of at least one bill, SB 104, a marijuana decriminalization bill.
Leaders from both groups understand that changing harmful marijuana laws is a bipartisan issue and look forward to engaging legislators from both sides of the aisle.
“Because the Virginia constitution does not allow for a “ballot initiative,” the type of initiative that got marijuana legalization on the ballot in Colorado, lobbying events are especially important in Virginia”, stated Pamela Novy, Ph.D, the Executive Director of Virginia NORML. “The Christopher Newport University poll from January, 2015 clearly shows that 71 percent of Virginians support decriminalizing marijuana possession,” said Novy.
One bill Virginia NORML will advocate for on Lobby Day is SB104. The bill, introduced by Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria), will remove criminal penalties for possession of marijuana in the Commonwealth and replace them with a civil fine. This legislation will remove punishments that disproportionately impact young adults and people of color. If passed, it would allow Virginia to join the 20 states, including Maryland, DC, and North Carolina, that no longer punish marijuana consumers with criminal charges and jail time that adversely impact prospects for jobs, student loans, scholarships and child custody. In addition, Virginia stands to save tens of millions of dollars spent annually arresting and prosecuting over 22,000 citizens for simple possession.
Vivienne Smith, a life-long Republican and the Director of Virginia RAMP, is optimistic about the prospect of changing the hearts and minds of legislators who have opposed decriminalization in the past. “RAMP works with the GOP to educate lawmakers and party leadership. Our organization is the voice of all Republicans who oppose the inhumane and unjust practice of imprisoning people for using the cannabis plant. We support efforts to bring marijuana out of the black-market and into regulated and safe markets, both for doctors and patients seeking compassionate medical care and storefronts for personal adult use.”
According to the group’s website, “RAMP rejects the myth that in supporting prohibition, Conservatives are promoting law and order. We wish to change the laws of prohibition that have caused so much harm to those things Conservatives value most, namely individual responsibility, limited government, fiscal responsibility, compassion, and privacy.”
Virginia NORML has also built a strong coalition with other organizations that will be present to lobby for decriminalization, to include the Virginia State Conference of the NAACP, an organization with a longstanding reputation for advocating for racial and social justice. Given that marijuana arrests disproportionately affect people of color and are sharply on the rise in Virginia, while declining across the rest of the nation, Shirley Ginwright, the current Chair of the Criminal Justice Committee, Virginia State Conference NAACP, plans to continue actively working with both NORML and the Virginia General Assembly to change unjust marijuana laws.
The Cannabis Commonwealth Coalition, formed to unite individuals and organizations in Virginia working to reform medical marijuana legislation, also supports decriminalization. “Although the type of decriminalization outlined in SB104 falls short of establishing legal access to medical cannabis, it will afford patients protection from criminal prosecution,” said Jenn Michelle Pedini, Director of Cannabis Commonwealth.
Virginia NORML is a 501(c)(4) non-profit organization with active sub-chapters across the state, to include the Charlottesville-Jefferson area, Culpeper County, Fredericksburg, Hampton Roads, Harrisonburg, Northern Virginia, Richmond and Roanoke.
Visit vanorml.org/lobby to register for Virginia NORML’s Lobby Day. Follow @VANORML on Facebook and Twitter for updates and action alerts.
Contact: Pamela Novy, Ph.D.
Jenn Michelle Pedini