Should Virginia decriminalize marijuana? State wants your feedback

Virginia officials are accepting comments by email until Aug. 25 about whether simple possession of marijuana should no longer be a crime, and advocates for changing the law are encouraging participation.

The study being conducted this year by the Virginia State Crime Commission came at the request of the legislature. Comments or material relevant to the study can be emailed to the Crime Commission at vsccinfo@vscc.virginia.gov.

The commission will present study findings on Oct. 5.

Jenn Michelle Pedini, the executive director of Virginia NORML, which advocates for reform of marijuana laws, said the group wants the state to hear the concerns of everyday people.

“Seventy-eight percent of Virginians support this type of reform,” she said.

Senate Majority Leader Thomas K. Norment Jr., R-James City, led the effort for a study and has said he’s open to decriminalization.

What’s being discussed is changing the penalty for possession of small amounts from a criminal misdemeanor to a civil fine. Some lawmakers have said they are concerned about the impact of giving someone a criminal record.

“I think that Senator Norment outlined some very salient points to look at. He’s perfectly aware of the data so he wasn’t shooting in the dark,” Pedini said.

Virginia NORML wants people to avoid diatribes in comments to the state.

“What we do want is for you to include a brief personal account of how a marijuana possession charge has collaterally impacted yourself and/or your family,” the group wrote in an email to followers this month. “Did you lose your scholarship? Your job? Your housing? Your children? Have you had difficulty finding meaningful employment simply because you have a misdemeanor possession conviction?”

The state’s Joint Commission on Health Care is studying whether marijuana oil is beneficial for treating certain diseases and whether it has any detrimental effects.

The General Assembly has already allowed people with intractable epilepsy to legally use those oils.

In this year’s governor’s race, Lt. Gov. Ralph S. Northam, the Democratic nominee, said he supports decriminalization of small amounts of marijuana.

Libertarian candidate Cliff Hyra wants to legalize marijuana and put it “on a level playing field with tobacco and alcohol, thus generating tax revenue,” according to his website.

GOP candidate Ed Gillespie is opposed to decriminalization but wants to study penalties and may be open to marijuana for medical use.