Virginia Bill Would Legalize Marijuana for Adult Use Despite Federal Prohibition
RICHMOND, Va. (Dec. 30, 2019) – A bill prefiled in the Virginia House would legalize marijuana for adult use despite federal prohibition.
Del. Lee Carter (D-Manassas) filed House Bill 87 (HB87) for introduction in the 2020 legislative session. The legislation would legalize marijuana possession for adults over 21 and create a tax and regulatory scheme for the cultivation and retail sale of cannabis. In effect, marijuana would be taxed and regulated like alcohol in the state.
HB87 would also decriminalize possession of marijuana for juveniles, creating civil penalties to replace criminal penalties currently in place.
Virginia is considering the legalization of marijuana despite the ongoing federal prohibition of cannabis.
EFFECT ON FEDERAL PROHIBITION
Under the federal Controlled Substances Act (CSA) passed in 1970, the federal government maintains complete prohibition of marijuana. Of course, the federal government lacks any constitutional authority to ban or regulate cannabis within the borders of a state, despite the opinion of the politically connected lawyers on the Supreme Court. If you doubt this, ask yourself why it took a constitutional amendment to institute federal alcohol prohibition.
Virginia legalized medicinal cannabis oils in 2015, but only for patients suffering from seizures due to intractable epilepsy. Although the program was extremely limited, the passage of that law set the foundation for future action. In 2018, the state expanded the program to allow physicians to recommend medicinal cannabis for patients suffering from any condition, and in 2019 the legislature expanded the program further.
The legalization of marijuana for adult use would remove another layer of laws prohibiting the possession and use of marijuana in the state, but federal prohibition would remain in effect. This is significant because FBI statistics show that law enforcement makes approximately 99 of 100 marijuana arrests under state, not federal law. When states stop enforcing marijuana laws, they sweep away most of the basis for 99 percent of marijuana arrests.
Furthermore, figures indicate it would take 40 percent of the DEA’s yearly-budget just to investigate and raid all of the dispensaries in Los Angeles – a single city in a single state. That doesn’t include the cost of prosecution. The lesson? The feds lack the resources to enforce marijuana prohibition without state assistance.
A GROWING MOVEMENT
Virginia joins a growing number of states simply ignoring federal prohibition, and nullifying it in practice.
Colorado, Washington state, Oregon and Alaska were the first states to legalize recreational cannabis, and California, Nevada, Maine and Massachusetts joined them after ballot initiatives in favor of legalization passed in November 2016. Michigan followed suit when voters legalized cannabis for general use in 2018. Vermont became the first state to legalize marijuana through a legislative act in 2018. Illinois followed suit in 2019.
With 33 states including allowing cannabis for medical use, the feds find themselves in a position where they simply can’t enforce prohibition anymore.
“The lesson here is pretty straightforward. When enough people say, ‘No!’ to the federal government, and enough states pass laws backing those people up, there’s not much the feds can do to shove their so-called laws, regulations or mandates down our throats,” Tenth Amendment Center founder and executive director Michael Boldin said.
The push to legalize marijuana in Virginia underscores another important strategic reality. Once a state legalizes marijuana – even if only in a very limited way – it tends to eventually expand. As the state tears down some barriers, markets develop and demand expands. That creates pressure to further relax state law. These new laws represent a further erosion of unconstitutional federal marijuana prohibition.
HB87 will be officially introduced and referred to a committee when the Virginia General Assembly convenes on Jan. 8, 2020. It will have to pass committee by a majority vote before moving forward in the legislative process.
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