The following is from Barbara Wagner, Regional Director of Fredericksburg area, and the coordinator of VA NORML's 2015 Lobby Day.
On a brisk Friday morning in January, about 70 cannabis activists gathered outside the Virginia State Capital Building preparing to launch their campaign to support Senator Adam Ebbin’s bill SB #686. Hailing from as far south as Boydton and as far north as Arlington, as well as all points in between these citizens came well versed in the common sense doctrine of decriminalization. Ranging in age from as young as twenty-one to Baby Boomers and beyond these Virginians came to bring a message to their senators and delegates --- 2015 is the time to decriminalize Marijuana in Virginia! This was a message that resonated throughout the halls of the capital.
Preparation for this morning of lobbying, the team from Virginia NORML had spent countless hours in planning and strategy – this was not a fly by night operation. It was critical to the success of the day’s operation to understand who their allies were and who the potential roadblocks would be. From there it was imperative to have a finely crafted plan to execute. Well researched data, enthusiastic citizen activists, and an abiding sense of determination were in the arsenal of weapons deployed that day.
Armed with well researched data and presentations crafted by Virginia NORML’s Duane Ludwig, Communications Director, and Ed McCain, Policy Advisor, teams of 5-6 visited with more than 50 Senators and Delegates and Legislative Aides intent on educating these policymakers with the latest data about where the majority of Virginian’s stand on the issues surrounding Marijuana legalization. Knowing that 60% of Virginian’s polled in an opinion poll earlier in the month believed that decriminalization was the right move for Virginia with only 32% in opposition was a key point in the argument for Senate Bill 686.
“Everywhere we looked we saw the round, white stickers! “Lennice Werth proclaimed, “We absolutely saturated the halls of the Capital! It was an amazing turnout!” Indeed, one could not find a hallway that did not have a small cadre of activists gathered around a notebook of information, practicing their introductions while waiting to be ushered in their Senator’s office or congratulating one another after a successful interview with legislators. “I had never done anything like that before and the experience was great!” Jess from southwestern Virginia gushed. Vitally important to the day were the volunteers who drove the early morning hours to arrive in the capital on that chilly morning by 8 a.m. to assemble. Many had never met before, but soon became fast friends and allies as they stood shoulder-to-shoulder to forward the cause of decriminalization.
While too early in the game to decide how Senate Bill 686 will pan out, it is also too early to contemplate waving the white flag. After a celebratory gathering at an English Pub – Penny Lane’s in downtown Richmond, the activists soon realized that a follow on visit in support of the bill looms large and soon. Many have plans to put every day activities on hold to be present when the bill is brought before the Courts of Justice Committee. Knowing that they will probably only get about 24 hours advance notice, they wait, and watch the docket and hope that for Virginians everywhere, 2015 will be the year that the Commonwealth of Virginia does the sensible thing and decriminalizes marijuana, a move that is not only smart on crime, but for the economy as well!