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Unlikely Allies Fight for Legalization in Virginia

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In a joint effort, some Virginia Republicans and marijuana activists held their first legalization rally in Charlottesville, Virginiaon Sunday. Jefferson NORML and Shirts With A Purpose led the liberation rally on the Downtown Mall.

“The [cannabis] industry is being born in Virginia as we speak,” said Jenn Pedini, Virginia NORML Executive Director.

Virginia doesn’t have any marijuana or hemp, but a recent conversation about medical access with Republicans is a huge sign of progress. It’s essential to the fight for legalization to get Republican lawmakers on board with the medical movement, because they currently control the Virginia legislature.

It can’t be ignored when it’s what a majority of Virginians want. According to a recent Virginia Commonwealth University poll, 62 percent of people strongly or somewhat agreed that recreational (adult-use) marijuana use should be legalized.

The bipartisan effort was led by Virginia NORML when they reached out to the Republicans Against Marijuana Prohibition (RAMP) organization and guided the formation of their Virginia chapter last year. In a statement from the website, the VA RAMP Director lays out their mission: “Our goal is to change legislation in Virginia to decriminalize, legalize and promote the use of medical marijuana as a treatment for a whole host of unmet medical needs.”

RAMP is critical to the cause because in the Commonwealth State, you can’t be at a Republican Party of Virginia event unless you’re registered Republican. VA RAMP and VA NORML are excited that they can now be included at those events. As they see it, it’s not a partisan issue, “Regardless of party, marijuana policy reform in Virginia aligns with everyone’s objectives,” said Pedini.

Virginia doesn’t allow ballot referendum measures by voter petition the way most other states have been getting voter-backed petitions to become initiatives, unlike Maine and Massachusetts.

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“We have specifically cultivated GOP voices focused on issues well-supported along party lines to further policy objectives in the den of prohibition’s staunchest stalwarts,” said Pedini.

The Board of Pharmacy has been directed by the General Assembly to draft a regulatory process for five in-state production facilities for cannabis oil. As Pedini explained, there is a Regulatory Advisory Panel (RAP) appointed to guide the Board of Pharmacy in crafting the regulations, consisting mainly of doctors, parents, and industry experts. The current language specifies a minimum of 15 percent Cannabidiol (CBD), and a maximum of 5 percent Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC)/THCa. Pedini says it’s not necessarily what will pass back through the General Assembly next session, but it’s a good start to keeping the political momentum.

“We’re making significant strides in combating the project SAM-sponsored Reefer Madness rhetoric spouted by the for-profit substance abuse industry in the General Assembly as facts,” said Pedini. SAM stands for Smart Approaches to Marijuana; it’s an anti-marijuana effort funded by donations and speakers like Patrick Kennedy, a former Rhode Island congressman who fell into a life of opiate and alcohol addiction before going to rehabilitation.

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Marijuana activists in Virginia also have a medical group called Cannabis Commonwealth. It’s a group of medical marijuana activists in the area.

NORML, VA RAMP, and Cannabis Commonwealth are all Virginians fighting for cannabis, as Pedini said, because of establishment politics, organizers of the movement must cater to individual groups like Republicans and the medical community instead of centralizing efforts.