What’s Best for Virginia on Marijuana?

What’s Best for Virginia on Marijuana?


by April Moore, Democratic candidate for the Virginia State Senate (against Sen. Mark Obenshain) in the 26th District, which includes Shenandoah, Warren, Page, and Rappahannock Counties, as well as northern Rockingham County and the city of Harrisonburg. This piece is running in the Northern Virginia Daily, which is in the District.

Recently I was asked by the Harrisonburg branch of NORML (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws) to speak to them about my views on their issue. This is what I said to them. 

I do not claim to know what the wisest policy would be for a society like ours with respect to marijuana. But I think you are doing our state a service in raising that question. Because it seems clear that the policy we have been pursuing is not our best option.

We Americans tried Prohibition of alcohol back in the early 20th century, and fortunately we recognized after little more than a decade what a disaster that policy was. Its main effect, it seems, was to foster the growth of vicious criminal organizations, that enriched themselves by providing what the law forbade but many citizens wanted. And it also eroded, among the citizens, the respect for the rule of law.

We are now many years into the experiment with Prohibition applied to marijuana, and aren’t the results much the same? Hasn’t this Prohibition helped spur the growth of criminal organizations that enrich themselves by selling something that many Americans want? And hasn’t the policy of imprisoning users both ruined the lives of a great many Americans and cost the states huge amounts of money that would be better spent on investing in our people?

Our present laws are based on a scare-campaign from generations ago – about “Reefer Madness”—that is totally discredited both by science and by the experience of millions of Americans. Most of the evidence I’m aware of suggest that alcohol is by far the more dangerous drug– both to the user and to the surrounding society.

But as I say, I don’t claim to know what would be the wisest policy for us to adopt.

With respect to Medical Marijuana, which is now legal in almost half of our states, that seems like a no-brainer. We already have available, by prescription, many drugs that are clearly more dangerous and addictive—like the opiates. Many people have gained relief from debilitating symptoms from the medical use of marijuana, so it seems only sensible – as well as compassionate – for this to be available for doctors to prescribe for their patients.

With respect to any further loosening of the laws about marijuana, we here in Virginia are now in a position to have the benefit of observing what happens in other states that are pioneering new approaches. With those states that allow and tax the sale of marijuana – just as is done nationwide with the sale of alcohol and tobacco products – are these states encountering more or fewer problems?

In particular, I want to know what effect a loosening the laws on marijuana proves to have on usage by adolescents. I gather that, while the science shows marijuana to be generally not so harmful to people, its regular use by youth whose brains are still developing has some adverse effects it is society’s interest to prevent. So I will be interested in seeing what happens in states like Colorado, Washington, Oregon, and Alaska in terms of keeping it out of the hands of adolescents.

My approach on this issue is the same as with all the issues: the question should be “What will make for the best Virginia?” I do not have any special interests to serve. I am not running out of political ambition. I just want to serve the greater good of our commonwealth and its citizens.

And my approach is one that has been traditional in America, and that we have been justly proud of as a people. We have traditionally been pragmatists. Americans have historically been governed not by ideology, but by the best answer to the question, “What works?”

And I’m glad your organization is asking that question on this issue.