January 23, 2012
A Virginia lawmaker wants to study the possibility of selling marijuana through state-run liquor stores, but even the resolution’s sponsor thinks the provocative idea will likely go up in smoke.
The proposal by Democratic Del. David Englin of Alexandria to look at the potential revenue impact of selling marijuana at the more than 330 ABC stores in Virginia joins a growing list of recommendations across the country to reform laws regarding the most commonly used illegal drug in the U.S.
Englin, who also has filed a resolution asking the governor to petition the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency to move marijuana from a Schedule I drug to Schedule II, cites other states with medical marijuana laws and societal changes. He said he’s aiming to bring in more money for the state amid moves to cut funding for core services across Virginia.
“There are respectable members of society out there, secretly smoking marijuana on the side, and the money that they use to buy that is going to criminals,” said Englin, who said he has not smoked and does not use marijuana. “Seems to me that it’d be a better idea to take that money that’s already being spent and use it to benefit the commonwealth.”
Under the resolution, eight members of the General Assembly would be selected to head a study on the feasibility and practicality of legalizing the use and sale of marijuana under certain conditions, and regulating that sale through the Virginia Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control. Findings would be due by the first day of the 2013 legislative session.
While most of the feedback has been positive, Englin doesn’t expect that the proposals, which have been referred to the House Rules Committee, to survive.
“Anything like this faces a steep uphill climb but my purpose is to get the conversation going,” Englin said. “Hopefully we can start having rational, informed conversations about these issues instead of just emotional conversations.”
But House Speaker Bill Howell, R-Stafford, who also chairs the House Rules Committee, said a study on the issue isn’t needed.
“A lot of people do feel it’s a gateway drug, that it causes all sorts of problems, and I just don’t think we need to do it,” Howell said. “If you’re talking about raising money, you could probably raise a lot more by legalizing prostitution or having riverboat gambling or casino gambling in Virginia. I think those are all detrimental to society and probably not the kind of thing that the state ought to be involved with and I think the same thing with legalizing marijuana.”
In 2010, then-Del. Harvey Morgan, a Republican from Gloucester County, startled colleagues and endured ribbing from both parties when he introduced a dead-on-arrival bill to decriminalize possession of marijuana in the Old Dominion. He also sponsored legislation to broaden the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes. A late-1970s Virginia law allows for medical marijuana for cancer and glaucoma patients.
Twenty-five to 30 states will entertain bills this year on reforming marijuana laws, said Allen St. Pierre, executive director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML). Fourteen states already have some kind of decriminalization law, and 16 states and the District of Columbia have medical marijuana laws in place.
“We would expect that the commonwealth of Virginia will be having this discussion for some years to come,” St. Pierre said.
Ed McCann, executive director of the Virginia chapter of NORML, said the continued discussion should focus on gaining tax revenue and not spending money “in vain to control a pervasive underground market.”
“It is now a question of what is the best way to implement a new policy ... one that protects children by moving marijuana sales from the corner to the counter, from an uncaring dealer to a state-regulated clerk,” McCann said in an email statement.
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