An important topic of news out of this year’s General Assembly is the effort in the House and Senate to legalize possession and usage of small amounts of marijuana for recreational purposes by adults in Virginia. But as is usually the case with most big issues in the legislature, this is more than a mere “yes or no” issue.
The bills that have cleared both chambers have differences which underscore the complicated nature of this debate. There are questions about the threshold. (How much marijuana is OK and how much is not?) There are also questions about future retail sales. (When should they be allowed? What limitations shall be placed? What punishments should be meted out for violations?)
Those differences will have to be worked out by a Conference Committee. That is a panel that features members of both chambers. Their compromise measure will then have to be passed by the House and Senate before it goes to the Governor’s desk. Passage would make Virginia the 16th state in the nation, and the first in the south, to legalize a small amount of marijuana for recreational use.
I voted against the measure that cleared the House. My concerns are from a public safety standpoint. There is a reliable field test police can use to determine if a motorist is impaired by alcohol. No such reliable field test exists to determine if they are impaired by marijuana. Such results take several days to be determined.
Also, I do not think the measure does enough to give localities a say in the issue. I pushed for an amendment that would let localities decide whether they would want to continue their prohibition on marijuana. That could be determined either by a binding or non-binding referendum; or through a vote of the city or county’s governing body. As the bill is written now there are only a few things a locality can do if the vast majority of its residents do not want marijuana retail activity in their communities.
There was some more news of interest to constituents this weekend. The Census Bureau announced they would delay release of updated population numbers needed for redistricting until September 30. That would not leave Virginia's Redistricting Commission enough time to draw new maps for this fall’s General Assembly election. All of the people who currently live in our district will remain in the district this year. We should have new lines drawn for the 2022 Congressional elections…and for the next House elections in 2023.
For the past week the House has been considering legislation that was passed this year by the State Senate. That process will continue this week. I will keep you up to date on legislation that has a direct impact on folks living in Southside Virginia.