Virginia congressman condemns marijuana bill, but supporters stand by it

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Legislation that would permit Virginians to use marijuana recreationally is facing harsh criticism from a Virginia congressman, but supporters are standing by the merits of the bill.

“Legalizing recreational use of marijuana, even if limited to adults, would expose our future generations to drug use at young impressionable ages,” Congressman Bob Good said in a statement. “It is my hope that the Governor will not move forward with this legislation and will instead acknowledge that the many negative consequences far outweigh any potential positive revenue for the Commonwealth.”

Both chambers of the General Assembly passed a compromise version of marijuana legalization that would permit recreational use by 2024. Now, Gov. Ralph Northam can decide to either sign the bill as is, offer amendments to it or veto it. The governor has signaled support for legalizing its use.

Although Northam has already given the effort his endorsement, Good is urging him to reconsider. In a letter to the governor, Good cited concerns about the rule of law and marijuana’s effect on families.

In the letter, Good said legalizing marijuana at the state level would undermine the rule of law because it is a Schedule 1 substance under the Controlled Substances Act. He said states do not have valid jurisdiction to legalize its recreational use and also warned that it would lead drug traffickers to turn to dealing harder drugs in place of their loss of income from marijuana sales.

Good also labeled marijuana as a gateway to other drugs. Even though the substance would only be legal for adults 21 years or older, he said it would expose children to drugs at a young age, which is harmful to families.

Supporters of the legislation are standing by the legislation presented to the governor. State Sen. Adam Ebbin, D-Alexandria, told The Center Square that stakeholders worked for nearly a year to develop a thoughtful and forward-thinking proposal to establish a regulated market for marijuana. Ebbin was the primary sponsor of the Senate’s version of the bill.

“This legislation is focused on equity; public health; preventing youth use; and data-driven reporting to ensure an adaptable and safe market,” Ebbin said. “The best way to keep intoxicants away from children is to remove the black market, have a 21 and over age limit, and provide robust intervention services. SB1406, which is, I believe, still improving with the input of Governor Northam and social justice advocates, is important, progressive legislation, with a goal of reducing, not increasing youth use. As usual, Congressman Good is ignoring science and data in an attempt to make a headline.”

Matt Simon, the senior legislative analyst for the Marijuana Policy Project told The Center Square that Good’s comments will not likely influence Northam.

“Rep. Good’s letter sounds like something that would have been written in the 1980’s,” Simon said. “These archaic arguments seem very unlikely to influence Gov. Northam’s thinking on the issue. Most lawmakers in Richmond appear to understand that regulating cannabis sales will actually protect children and families. When Virginia’s law is fully implemented, the system of regulated sales will restrict access to underage consumers, and it will produce substantial tax revenue that will help fund early childhood education for at-risk children and other important priorities.”

The legislation, as it is currently written, would let local governments opt out from allowing the sale of recreational marijuana within their jurisdiction. It would establish a Virginia Cannabis Control Authority , which would set up regulations. Someone without a license could grow a small number of plants, but would not be allowed to sell them.

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