Virginia Bill Would Decriminalize Marijuana, Help Thwart Federal Prohibition

RICHMOND, Va. (Jan. 4, 2015) – A bill introduced in the Virginia legislature would decriminalize marijuana for adults, changing criminal penalties into civil infractions. The proposal would not only decriminalize marijuana in the Old Dominion, it would also take a big step toward stopping federal cannabis prohibition in practice in Virginia.

Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria) pre-filed Senate Bill 104 (SB104) for introduction during the 2016 legislative session. The bill would change the Virginia state criminal code to read as follows:

"It is unlawful for any person knowingly or intentionally to possess marijuana unless the substance was obtained directly from, or pursuant to, a valid prescription or order of a practitioner while acting in the course of his professional practice… The attorney for the Commonwealth or the county, city, or town attorney may prosecute such a case. Any violation of this section may be charged by summons.

Upon the prosecution of a person for violation of this section, ownership or occupancy of the premises or vehicle upon or in which marijuana was found shall not create a presumption that such person either knowingly or intentionally possessed such marijuana.

Any person who violates this section is subject to a civil penalty of no more than $100, upon a second violation is subject to a civil penalty of no more than $250, and upon a third or subsequent violation is subject to a civil penalty of no more than $500. Such civil penalties are payable to the Literary Fund."

The best thing about measures such as SB104 is that they are completely lawful, and there is little if anything the feds can do to stop them in practice.

EFFECT ON FEDERAL PROHIBITION

Passage of SB104 would remove one layer of laws prohibiting the possession and use of marijuana, but federal prohibition would remain in place.

Of course, the federal government lacks any authority to ban or regulate marijuana 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.

While the Virginia bill would not alter federal law, it would take a step toward blocking in effect the federal ban. FBI statistics show that law enforcement makes approximately 99 of 100 marijuana arrests under state, not federal law. By erasing the state laws, the Virginia legislature would essentially sweep away 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.

If the state legislature passes SB104, Virginia would join a growing number of states simply ignoring federal prohibition. Colorado, Washington state and Alaska have all legalized both recreational and medical marijuana, and 23 states now allow cannabis for medical use. With nearly half the country legalizing marijuana, the feds find themselves in a position where they simply can’t enforce prohibition any more. The feds need state cooperation to fight the “drug war,” and that has rapidly evaporated in the last few years with state legalization, practically blocking the ban.

SB104 will be formally introduced during the 2016 legislative session. It must pass the Senate Committee for Courts of Justice before it can receive a full vote in the Senate.