Lobbying for Decriminalization in Virginia

Lobbying for Decriminalization in Virginia

Written by George Washington University SSDP chapter member Aria Mildice

The Virginia Lobby Day with NORML this past Friday, January 16th, was my first time lobbying. Virginia NORML organized this lobby day with Senators and Delegates from the Virginia General Assembly to lobby for S.B. 686, which would decriminalize marijuana possession throughout the state. S.B. 686 was introduced in the Senate by Sen. Adam Ebbin, a democrat representing the 30th district in Northern Virginia. Although Virginia also has bills this session regarding the expansion of medical marijuana as well as hemp production, this lobby day was solely focused on S.B. 686.

Aria VA lobby day

Aria lobbying at the VA State Senate in Richmond in support of SB 686

Armed with our green folders filled with talking points, stickers, and leave-behind packets for the legislators, my group had our first meeting with Del. Lopez (D-49). As I soon found out, lobby days are full of unpredictable changes, and unfortunately we were not able to meet with Del. Lopez until later in the day. As we were regrouping, we ran into another legislator, Del. Hope (D-47), who said he would love to talk discuss S.B. 686 with us. He invited the four of us into his office, and we discussed how to gain support from both the State Senate and Assembly for the bill. Walking into the Delegate’s office, I was not entirely sure what I should expect, but Del. Hope was entirely supportive, and wanted to help get the bill past committee. Currently S.B. 686 is in the Committee for Courts and Justice, and the majority of the legislators we were trying to make contact with were in that committee. Leaving Del. Hope’s office, I realized that I already knew all of the talking points and that all I had to do was to talk passionately about what I think of the current marijuana policies in Virginia.

Sixty percent of Virginians support decriminalization of marijuana, and like many other states Virginia spends a huge amount of money on the drug war; up to $120 million per year. I was surprised to find that many of the legislators I was able to talk to were much more supportive and receptive than I had initially anticipated. I was able to meet with my own senator from Virginia, Sen. Miller (D-1). Before walking into his office, I had heard that he wouldn’t meet with another NORML member earlier in the day, so I was anticipating a short and potentially unsuccessful meeting; however this was not the case. While he thought that the bill would not get past committee and had not entirely solidified his position on S.B. 686, he was very interested in what we had to say. In talking to Sen. Miller, we discussed our personal stories, the experiences other states have had since decriminalization, and the scientific and medical research that has been done on cannabis. I found that the response that Sen. Miller gave us was similar to the other legislators that we met with. Many said they are on the fence, and don’t outright support or oppose the bill. Throughout the day my group was also able to meet with Sen. Howell’s (D-32) Legislative Assistant, as well as Del. Murphy (D-34).

The last legislator we had the opportunity to talk to was Del. Lopez. The conversation with him seemed to be very open and supportive. Much of the discussions with legislators were about what concerns might prevent them from supporting S.B. 686. While Del. Lopez himself seemed to be in support of the bill, he brought up a lot of realistic points on why many Virginia lawmakers are less receptive to the idea of decriminalized marijuana, and passing the bill this year.

After we finished Lobbying for the day we had a great lunch at a nearby pub. When someone there asked what I had thought of my first day lobbying, I said that I had a blast. Being able to have an impact on the legislative process means a lot for me, especially for a cause I’m passionate about like the drug war and decriminalization. I was also able to meet and network with other SSDPers from Northern Virginia Community College – Woodbridge, as well as VA NORML members. Overall, the day was a huge success, and from what I gathered talking to other groups, only one or two legislators outright said they did not support the passage of S.B. 686 and the reform of marijuana policy. We have yet to see if the bill will pass through committee, but hopefully through our work on the lobby day, we made a positive impact on legislative process and drug policies in Virginia in the coming months and years.

nova woodbridge VA lobby day

Members of Northern Virginia Community College – Woodbridge SSDP and Outreach Coordinator Jake Agliata outside the Virginia State Senate.