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Virginia decriminalization bills draw heavy opposition

RICHMOND, Va. (Cannabist) — Virginia won’t be pulling a Colorado by decriminalizing marijuana this year. But the state might relax its penalties for possessing marijuana and its rules on who can use marijuana products for medical reasons. Legislators this session introduced more than a dozen marijuana-related proposals. A Senate committee last week killed two bills to decriminalize the substance, and a House bill likely will die this week. However, lawmakers seem amenable to making marijuana products more available for medical purposes and to being more lenient with Virginians convicted of simple possession of marijuana. Still, those bills have drawn opposition from certain legislators, highlighting a cultural divide within the General Assembly. That divide was evident in the debate last week over a bill allowing Virginians with cancer, glaucoma, AIDS, multiple sclerosis, Crohn’s disease and several other illnesses to use cannabidiol oil or THC-A oil, which are extracted from marijuana. Under current law, only people with intractable epilepsy can use the oils. Cannabidiol oil and THC-A are non-psychoactive: They cannot be smoked or get users high. Even so, SB 1298 sparked debate; 11 of the 40 senators voted against it. Sen. Dick Black, R-Loudoun, recalled returning from serving in the Marines in Vietnam in the 1960s. “Pot was the biggest thing, and we had just simply had a collapse of good order and discipline,” Black told his Senate colleagues. “I know where we’re headed; I can see a slippery slope. I do not want to see this country go back where it was in the ’60s and the ’70s because believe me it was not pretty. It was the worst of all times I have lived through.” SB 1298 was sponsored by Sen. Jill Holtzman Vogel, R-Winchester. She acknowledged there has been opposition to adding a dozen diseases to the list of ailments that qualify for a marijuana-extract oil.

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