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.