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Two marijuana-related bills sponsored by Republican Delegate Harvey Morgan of Gloucester were essentially killed by a House subcommittee recently.
The bills are part of what Morgan called his “Compassionate and Sensible Drug Policy.” House Bill 1136 would make marijuana available for doctors to prescribe for those who could benefit medically from the drug, and House Bill 1134 would lessen the severity of the punishment for possessing less than one ounce of marijuana.
Currently under Virginia law, patients suffering from cancer or glaucoma are permitted to use medical marijuana. Although the drug is not legally available in plant form, patients can be prescribed Marinol, which contains a synthetic form of THC, a chemical found in marijuana.
Dee Duffy, Executive Director of the Virginia chapter of NORML, or the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, said she was surprised to hear about the bills.
“It seemed to almost come out of nowhere. Everybody was excited, I certainly was. Delegate Morgan had done a press conference, got a lot of good response there, and everybody was of the same opinion, myself included: it’s about time.”
During Morgan’s press conference, he addressed his reasoning behind supporting medical marijuana in Virginia.
“It would be wrong to continue the current restriction to only two conditions when we know it can be effective in treating others. We trust physicians with our heath care; why not trust them to determine appropriate therapy?”
Morgan is a pharmacist and said that he understands that “medications have benefits and risks” and marijuana isn’t the answer for everyone.
“This bill simply allows for one — and only one — additional treatment option to be administered under a physician’s close supervision.”
Both bills have attracted a lot of attention. The subcommittee hearing was packed with speakers ranging from those involved in the medical field to law enforcement officers.
“Once this became newsworthy or bigger news, the support behind it is incredible. It’s incredible. Moreso than I had thought.”
Despite this public support, the subcommittee voted 4-3 to table the bill. House Bill 1134 was also discussed at the subcommittee hearing. The bill would have allowed those caught with less than an ounce of marijuana to pay a $500 fine but not face jail time or have the offense put on their permanent record.
“In 2007, nearly 18,000 people were arrested in Virginia for simple possession of marijuana. This places a huge burden on law enforcement, prisons, and the judicial system. In these times of economic hardship, we need to examine closely how our tax dollars are spent.”
The bill would also downgrade possession of less than an ounce of marijuana from a criminal offense to a civil penalty.
“The decrim bill, 1134, as written was very well written. It was not too dramatic in the changes that it asked for.”
The vote to table House Bill 1134 was unanimous. Still, the subcommittee hearing lasted about 2 hours, which surprised Duffy, who expected the bills to be killed immediately.
“They listened longer than I had expected, and you know even though it was pretty much shot down and they did their best to knock it down along the way, I was pretty pleased at how long they did listen.”
This is Kelsey Radcliffe for Richmond Independent Radio News.