|Photo: Hampden-Sydney College|
|Delegate Harvey Morgan: “Making simple possession a civil rather than a criminal offense makes sense”|
Virginia lawmakers will have a chance to end criminal penalties for simple marijuana possession when the Assembly convenes in January — and the fight to decriminalize pot is being led by an 80-year-old Republican.
GOP Delegate Harvey Morgan, an assistant clinical professor of pharmacy at Virginia Commonwealth University, is sponsoring House Bill 1443, which would replace the criminal fine for pot possession with a civil penalty and eliminate the 30-day jail sentence and criminal record following conviction.
HB 1443 would not change penalties for the “manufacture” or distribution of marijuana, reports Eric W. Dolan at The Raw Story. It would also continue to require drug screening and education for minors convicted of pot possession.
Morgan introduced a similar bill in last year’s General Assembly Session, but the legislation never made it out of committee.
“The Commonwealth continues to punish people for mistakes made decades ago,” Morgan said when he introduced the bill last January. “We need to move to a more honest, reasoned, compassionate, and sensible drug policy, and this bill does that.”
“In 2007, nearly 18,000 people were arrested in Virginia for simple possession of marijuana,” Morgan said. “This places a tremendous burden on law enforcement, prisons and the judicial system. In these times of economic hardship, we need to closely examine how our tax dollars are spent.”
“When you consider that research indicates that variations in penalties — including jail time — have no discernible effect on the prevalence or frequency of marijuana use, making simple possession a civil rather than a criminal offense makes sense,” Morgan said.
No fewer than seven bills have been introduced to the Virginian General Assembly to outlaw “synthetic marijuana” blends such as Spice and K2, and the Virginia chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) has said “a robust drug policy debate… is virtually guaranteed” in the 2011 session.
Virginia police arrested 19,764 people for marijuana offenses in 2009, according to The Daily Progress.