Norfolk Councilman Paul Riddick wants the state’s second-largest city to ask the General Assembly to decriminalize possessing small amounts of marijuana.
Such efforts have quickly died in the past few years in the Republican-controlled legislature. But should Norfolk decide to lobby lawmakers and seek GOP backing, the city would advance the discussion, advocates for marijuana reform said.
State Sen. Adam Ebbin, D-Alexandria, said to his knowledge Norfolk would become the first city to weigh in on the issue. Ebbin has sponsored legislation to make possession of small amounts of marijuana punishable by a civil fine rather than a criminal misdemeanor. Riddick said at a meeting Tuesday he wants Norfolk to lobby for such legislation.
“I think it’s a sign that the public and, in this case, their representatives recognize that it’s time to decriminalize marijuana, and they see that the prohibition on marijuana has failed in this country and in Virginia,” Ebbin said.
Charlottesville in 2012 passed a resolution calling on state officials to revisit marijuana policies and give consideration to decriminalization, a Daily Progress story reported at the time. But Ebbin said he knew of no municipality that has lobbied in favor of legislation.
Jenn Michelle Pedini, executive director of Virginia NORML, a group that wants to eliminate criminal penalties for personal possession of marijuana, said a city like Norfolk pushing for reform “would be significant, absolutely.”
Riddick said he wants the City Council to hear from police and legal experts about the effect on young people of such convictions on their records. Proponents of reform say enforcement of marijuana laws is expensive and disproportionately targets minorities. The associations for the Virginia State Police and the state’s commonwealth’s attorneys have opposed changes to existing law.
Councilman Tommy Smigiel, who is on the executive board of the Virginia Municipal League and is the urban section chairman of its legislative committee, said he had already helped arrange for a big discussion on marijuana when the league holds its annual conference in Virginia Beach starting Oct. 9.
“I specifically asked for that topic to be talked about. I think we have an opportunity there,” Smigiel said. “If we can get a Virginia Beach Republican delegate to carry that type of legislation, it has a better chance of passing.”
That was a change in tone for Smigiel, who said at a candidate forum in 2014 that marijuana decriminalization was not an issue for the City Council to address. In October, he said, he’ll facilitate the discussion in Virginia Beach with experts on the topic.
He said Wednesday he’s studied the issue since 2014 and thinks localities can influence the legislature on the issue.
This story originally appeared on PilotOnline.com.