Virginia congressman again pushing for decriminalization of marijuana

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Congressman Tom Garrett is again pushing Congress to decriminalize marijuana at the federal level.

On Wednesday, Garrett was joined by families who helped pass medical marijuana legislation in Virginia.

Two years ago, Lisa Smith asked Virginia lawmakers to pass a law allowing her daughter, Haley, and many others to use a marijuana-based medicine called CBD. Virginia passed the law, and since then she says Haley, who suffers from a rare disease called Davet syndrome, has shown significant signs of improvement.

Last year Smith admitted she ran into another problem. While CBD was legal in Virginia, it still violated federal law.

“When we want to bring it into the state we violate federal law, if someone wants to ship it they violate federal law, once we have it here, we’re free from prosecution,” Smith said last February.

Now, Smith has joined Garrett and taken her fight to the nation’s capital. Garrett held a news conference Wednesday about a bill he introduced back in February which would decriminalize marijuana at the federal level.

“I’m not going to sit around being worried about being elected,” Garrett said. “I’m going to do what I think is right.”

“We think it’s a great step forward, we think it’s an essential step forward,” said Claire Guthrie-Gastanaga with the ACLU of Virginia.

She says they’ve been encouraging lawmakers to decriminalize marijuana for years. She says Garrett’s bill would at least leave the decision up to states.
“To get the federal government out of the business of telling states that they can’t do what makes sense for their own residents,” said Guthrie-Gastanaga.

The Congressman says he’s seeing support for the bill from both conservatives and liberals but says the challenge will be getting some lawmakers worried about their elections to vote for his measure.

“We applaud the congressman for pushing it forward and we hope it’s successful,” said Guthrie-Gastanaga.

The congressman says he hopes his bill will also address the racial disparity in arrests for possession of marijuana. A recent report from the Capitol News Service showed that African Americans in Virginia were three times more like to be arrested for possessing marijuana than whites.

Meanwhile, Dr. Kevin Sabet, president of Smart Approaches to Marijuana, voiced his opposition to the proposed law.

“Common sense – not Cheech and Chong ideology – should drive our nation’s marijuana laws. At a time when the opioid crisis is stealing thousands of lives in Virginia each year, Congressman Garrett apparently believes his legislative energy is best spent supporting the special interests of a growing, for-profit drug industry instead of the parents and community leaders in his district working to keep young people away from drugs. Make no mistake: Congressman Garrett’s legislation is designed to chip away at law enforcement’s ability to keep drug trafficking organizations out of our communities and support a growing for-profit industry that will target poor and young people throughout Virginia,” said SAM President and former senior White House drug policy advisor Dr. Kevin Sabet.

“The marijuana industry is the next Big Tobacco of our time, and history will not look kindly upon those who enabled lobbyists and special interest groups to gain a foothold in putting profit ahead of public health and safety. Instead of pushing legislation that will increase drug use in Virginia, we call on Congressman Garrett to break his silence on the recent Washington proposals to gut funding for vital opioid programs in his district and divert his agenda toward increasing funding for prevention, treatment, and smart-on-crime programs that will make Virginia healthier and stronger.”

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