‘Progressive’ marijuana legislation makes strides in Assembly

BY CARNEY JUDGE
STAFF WRITER
THE CAPITAL NEWS SERVICE

Virginia lawmakers made strides in terms of progressive marijuana-related legislation during the 2017 General Assembly session by passing several pro-marijuana bills, such as HB 2051, which alters the driver’s license forfeiture penalty for marijuana possession offenses.

HB2051 was adopted unanimously by the House on Feb. 24 and was designed to revise the existing provision that “a person loses his driver’s license for six months when convicted of or placed on deferred disposition for a drug offense to provide that the provision does not apply to deferred disposition of simple possession of marijuana.”

The bill was introduced by Del. Les Adams (R-Chatham) with support from co-patron Del. Matt Fariss (R-Rustburg) and was identical to Sen. Adam Ebbin’s (D-Alexandria) SB 784, which was stricken in favor of HB2051.

“I think taking away someone’s driver’s license is unrelated to the marijuana possession charge and it is important that people be able to earn a living, go about their daily lives, and even pick up their kids from day-care easily,” Ebbin said. “With this change we are on track for that. It has taken a few years but it is clearly worth it.”

Ebbin said that it was difficult to get HB2051 through because of several substitutions that had to be made to get a majority vote. “The key turning point was having the prosecutors support this bill and the reason they did so was because this year the judges would have discretion to suspend licenses or not.”

Under the new provision of the bill, judges were given discretionary powers over the suspension of licenses and the house decided that people would be required to do more community service in order to keep their licenses.

“My expectation is that the judges will not suspend licenses unless the defendant chose not to do the increased community service,” Ebbin said.

HB2051 will go into effect on July 1 after the governor signs it and is expected to affect people 18-30 the most, Ebbin said.

The General Assembly also passed SB1027, which permits pharmaceutical processors to manufacture and provide cannabidiol oil and THC-A oil for the treatment of intractable epilepsy.

The Virginia Epilepsy Foundation has been in favor of cannabidiol oil treatment for epilepsy patients for months. In their August 2016 newsletter, the foundation stated that they “support safe, legal access to medical cannabis if a patient and their health care team feel that the potential benefits of medical cannabis for uncontrolled epilepsy outweigh the risks.”

The newsletter also said that the Epilepsy Foundation is “committed to supporting physician-directed care and to exploring and advocating for all potential treatment options, including medical cannabis and cannabidiol oil (CBD).”

“Virginia is becoming more progressive in terms of marijuana but these two bills were pretty narrow-tailored,” Ebbin said. “Those are two small steps but we haven’t gotten to the point yet where we are going to decriminalize. The fact that they both passed the House unanimously shows there is an open mindedness in terms of just penalties.”

Ebbin is optimistic for the future of marijuana legislation in Virginia.

“I still remain disappointed that you have a criminal record for any offense of marijuana possession,” he said. “We’ll just have to be persistent and keep at it.”

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