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Why Virginia's Decriminalization Study Matters

Recently, the Virginia State Crime Commission agreed to undertake a study on decriminalization. From a perspective well-represented in comments on Facebook, decriminalization has been implemented around the country for nearly two decades. And, with the nationwide trend toward regulating both adult and medical use, why does Virginia still need a study? Why won’t Virginia lawmakers just move forward with the seemingly obvious solution of decriminalization? The answer lies in legislative procedure.

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Ralph Northam: Progress for Virginia’s Cannabis Policy

On March 28, 2017, Virginia’s Lieutenant Governor Ralph Northam was in lively downtown Norfolk for a fundraising event hosted by several local residents at the art gallery and event space Work│Release. With cocktails and hors d'oeuvres, the atmosphere was that of a classy celebration. Despite recent events and elections viewed unfavorably by the gathered democratic supporters, this event focused on hopeful future longed for by most Americans. Ralph Northam made his case for why he was the man to bring Virginia to that future.

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Virginia's Emerging Regulated Cannabis Industry: Next Stop, Norfolk

You can only do something the first time once. For the first time, Virginia is implementing rules and regulations that will allow the creation of a regulated medical marijuana industry in Virginia. The executive director of Virginia NORML traveled to Norfolk for a presentation on the ins and outs of the new law.

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Decriminalize Virginia Beach at City Council

On March 7th, Decriminalize Virginia Beach’s first event was a success. Why? Because it happened. For an issue to be discussed by a city council, it must be brought before the city council. After over 25 years of living in this city, I have finally realized the power of speaking truth to power in a professional presentation. With only three minutes, it also had to be concise.

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Hampton NAACP Forum on Marijuana Decriminalization

Hampton Roads includes nine independent Virginia cities, with the Chesapeake Bay dividing the Southside and the Peninsula. Much like the Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel connects these two regions, the rising support for decriminalization is uniting communities across Southeastern Virginia.

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Republican Lt. Governor Candidates on Marijuana Reform

Although the Virginia Beach Tea Party does not generally invoke thoughts of marijuana reform, thankfully, this is not the case. At a forum sponsored by the group, three Republican Lieutenant Governor candidates squared off to highlight their individual strengths. To be blunt, there were significant differences, particularly on the topic of marijuana policy.

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House Republicans Favor Criminal Penalties for Simple Marijuana Possession



There were a historic 21 marijuana-related bills presented in the Virginia General Assembly this year. Unfortunately, most were dead on arrival in the Virginia House of Delegates. Each of the 6 expungement bills, both decriminalization bills, and the drivers license decrim bill, heard by the House Courts of Justice Criminal Law subcommittee were killed along party lines, with Republicans voting to table each of the 9 pieces of legislation. Vivienne Smith, the Director of the Virginia chapter of Republicans Against Marijuana Prohibition stated that she was disappointed the republicans on the committee so swiftly tabled bills supported by the majority of Virginians. “It’s unfortunate that the republicans in the House aren’t being more pragmatic. Marijuana is now a mainstream topic of debate and will only become more so as we approach the 2016 elections. Holding steadfast to the notion that marijuana users are criminals will only hurt our party.”

Pam Novy, the Executive Director of Virginia NORML, states that she remains optimistic, in spite of the recent setback. “While the likelihood of advancing similar legislation now in the Senate has certainly decreased, it’s clear that many republican lawmakers see the need for change. Many are now willing to admit, at least privately, that criminalizing a substance that’s been used by nearly half of Virginians is simply wrong.”

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Virginia NORML shows lawmakers that cannabis reform is a SERIOUS issue for constituents RIGHT NOW.

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VIDEO: Dressing for Success at Lobby Day

Check out this entertaining video produced by Brian & Tammy Mundy, Jefferson Area NORML's fearless 2015 leadership, on preparing to put your best foot forward for Lobby Day.

Join Virginia NORML's grassroots movement for cannabis reform in Richmond on January 14 for Lobby Day, as we visit lawmakers and their legislative aides in person.  Register:



Virginia NORML Unites Coalition to Lobby General Assembly for Marijuana Decriminalization


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.

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Contacting Your Legislators Before Lobby Day

As we approach the start of the General Assembly session this January 2017, Virginia NORML knows that it is important to be in contact with our elected representatives. This time of year, state legislators are especially receptive to constituent ideas, and nearly every lawmaker will hold a town hall event of some sort in your area. These are excellent opportunities to publicly ask them some of these questions, and force them to explain any regressive positions they might hold. If they opt to take a more progressive stance, then you can hold them to it. Virginia NORML has built our Annual Cannabis Conference (January 29th) immediately preceding our Lobby Day (January 30th) in order to help cannabis activists from across the state to come together and learn about lobbying so that our voice is heard loud and clear in the General Assembly.

Sunday's conference will feature a lobbying workshop, advice from our elected officials, and local policy reform groups. Monday, lobbying teams will meet with legislators before being introduced in the Senate Gallery. We'll wrap up the day and share our successes with a reception at a nearby restaurant. 

The key thing is to make contact now and start to build a relationship with them if you can. Share your personal stories about medical uses, a family member being arrested, or a desire for fiscal responsibility. Ideally, Virginia NORML members will be called upon by a lawmaker or their staffer when they need information about marijuana policy!

Here are some things you can say to your State Senator and Delegate:

- Virginia is one of the very few states that are REGRESSING on this issue, arresting 76% more of its citizens for marijuana possession than 10 years ago. [This Washington Post article provides background]

- Marijuana prohibition subsidizes drug cartels and related criminal activity.

- Arrests of black people in Virginia for marijuana increased by 106 percent from 2003 to 2013, accounting for 47 percent of the state’s arrests even though Virginia’s population is only 20 percent black, and usage rates for both blacks and whites are the same.

- Marijuana prohibition costs Virginia's taxpayers $67-125M each year, funding that could be used for other state priorities, or to focus on solving real crimes.

Here are some questions you can ask them in person:

- [Given that Virginia has some severely underfunded budget priorities,] do you support Virginia spending between 67 and 125 million dollars each year to arrest, prosecute, and sometimes even incarcerate non-violent marijuana consumers?

- The Washington Post embarrassed Virginia recently by pointing out that we are arresting MORE marijuana consumers every year, while every other state is figuring out that this tactic is not improving anything. Do you support the common sense path taken already by half the states to decriminalize marijuana possession, so that we can focus on bigger priorities, such as ____?


After you make contact, report back to us and let us know what you learned. This will help guide our work going forward. And thank you for taking the time to make Virginia a better and more freedom-loving place to live.