PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) -- Portsmouth Delegate Steve Heretick didn't waste any time putting in a controversial bill that he calls the first comprehensive bill for legalizing marijuana in Virginia jistory.
Heretick says he has been an advocate for marijuana reform for the past few years -- and has introduced legislation to decriminalize marijuana in every session since 2015.
"The time has come for adults to have the freedom to decide for themselves whether or not to consume marijuana in the privacy of their homes," Heretick said in a statement Wednesday.
If it were to pass, and it's a long way from that, it would eliminate criminal penalties for adults over the age of 21.
It would also decriminalize possession for people under 21 with civil penalties no greater than $250.
Instead of the current maximum fine of $500 and a maximum jail sentence of 30 days, first-time offenders would see a $50 fine.
Fines for second and third time offenders would increase to $100 and $250, respectively, under Heretick's bill.
Earlier this month, Norfolk Commonwealth's Attorney Greg Underwood said in a letter his office would stop prosecuting cases of misdemeanor marijuana possession.
"It recognizes that we as adults, that we should have the individual liberty of making certain choices for ourselves," Heretick told WAVY from his legislative office in the General Assembly.
Heretick's bill not only legalizes marijuana, it establishes a regulatory scheme for the regulation of cultivation facilities, manufacturing facilities, marijuana testing facilities and retail marijuana stores by the Board of Agriculture and Consumer Services. "It allows for the manufacturing and the safe manufacturer of marijuana and distribution by Virginia based companies," Heretick added.
His bill provides a marijuana sales tax of 15 percent, of which 67 percent of revenues collected are put into general fund, and 33 percent of revenues are deposited into a "Retail Marijuana Education Support Fund" to be used for public education.
Jesse Scaccia is with NORML, or the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, and calls Heretick's bill a "conversation starter."
He adds to that, "We need to get marijuana off street corners, and get it behind counters. It's not only the tax revenue, it is age verification."
As for the money raised from pot sales Scaccia offers this NORML research.
"Legalizing marijuana raised a lot of money in Colorado. They are seeing a billion dollars in revenue going to roads and to schools."
Scaccia adds, "Just as every Virginian should be able to enjoy a bourbon or a beer in their home, so they should enjoy marijuana."
There are also stunning national statistics that show who gets prosecuted more for possession of marijuana.
"We see white people and black people use marijuana at equal rates in Virginia, but African Americans are arrested at a rate of 3 to 1 compared to whites, so we are taking young black men out of their communities where they have homes, jobs, and we are making criminals out of them," Scaccia added.
Scaccia is absolutely sure the time to legalize marijuana is now.
"Yes, Virginia is ready. The polling has long been in favor of adult use, and medical use, and of decriminalization. It's just the General Assembly is now catching up with the will of the people."
Only 10 states have legalized marijuana, and 13 have decriminalized it. Virginia is not one of them, but we are one of 33 states that allows marijuana for medical purposes.
Getting busted for possessing marijuana has serious consequences today. Heretick represented a client Monday in court on a possession charge, "This is going to foreclose his ability to get some jobs in his future."
Scaccia knows people too, "It's devastating ... getting housing loans, getting jobs, and then you get sent away, and you can't be a parent."
It so happens this weekend is the Virginia 2019 Cannabis Conference in Richmond.
On Monday, it'll be Marijuana Lobby Day in the General Assembly.
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