Virginia’s chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws met this weekend to plot a strategy for decriminalizing the drug and legalizing it for medical use.
Fifty people met in Richmond to explore strategies for getting this state to expand its medical marijuana law. Legislators recently signed a bill making it legal for people with some forms of epilepsy to use the drug, but the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws says It took an extraordinary effort by parents and their sick children to get that far.
“In fact, during one hearing a child had a seizure right there in front of all these lawmakers.”
Duane Ludwig speaks for Virginia’s chapter of NORML. He says epilepsy patients can now use a derivative of marijuana without being prosecuted, but there’s no legal way to get it, and studies show the plant may be useful in treating many other conditions.
“We would like to have a medical bill that works for tens of thousands more people who could have their lives improved by cannabis therapy.”
He also argues that adults should not be branded as criminals for possession of pot. The state does not impose jail time for a first offense, but Ludwig says reform is still needed.
“They are going through the arduous and expensive process of negotiating the court system, and people who get caught two or three times are definitely serving some time.”
Supporters of marijuana law reform are encouraged by the fact that North Carolina and Maryland have decriminalized the drug, and in the nation’s capital it’s legal.
“It does help to have DC right there showing everyone in the region that it’s not the end of the world when people can grow their own marijuana.”
Ludwig hopes legal efforts to redraw political boundaries in Virginia will make it possible for reform-minded candidates to get elected.
“That could change everything on every issue, honestly. Right now, there’s so many districts that are so safe that they’re never even contested.”
Surveys show a majority of state residents want change.
“Virginians support medical marijuana legalization 86% to 11. Between 60 and 70% support ending prohibition and not punishing adults for this non-violent so-called crime.”
And he says 55% of voters would support full legalization. Even so, lawmakers like Bryce Reeves – a senator from the 17th District, are steadfast in their opposition to reform.
“As a past narcotics officer, it’s pretty clear that he is still in the mindset and not in the mindset of representing his people. What we hope to do is send a message to Virginia that this is an issue that people need to take seriously.”
Reeves could not be reached for comment, but at its meeting, Virginia NORML voted to support his opponent in November’s election and raised $1,200 for Ned Gallaway’s campaign.