Charlottesville Says Decriminalize or Regulate Marijuana

The Charlottesville, Virginia, city council approved a marijuana-related resolution Monday night calling on the governor and the legislature "to revisit the sentencing guidelines that merit jail terms for simple possession, do away with rules that suppose intent to distribute without evidence and give due consideration to sponsored state bills that would decriminalize, legalize or regulate marijuana like alcohol."

Charlottesville City Council (City of Charlotteville)
[Editor's Note: To find the actual resolution, click on the link above, select "May 7, 2012 (with background)," then scroll to the very end of the PDF file.]

Under current law, possession of marijuana is classified as a misdemeanor carrying punishment of up to 30 days in jail and/or fines of up to $500. Subsequent convictions carry a jail sentence of up to a year and/or fines of up to $2,500.

The council had been presented with two resolutions, the version that passed and one that also included language making marijuana possession the lowest law enforcement priority, but councilors balked at the lowest priority language, saying they feared it would send the wrong message to children. Two of the five-member council supported the lowest priority language, but they dropped that in order to pick up a third vote on the decriminalization and regulation language.

"I think it's perfectly legitimate for us to say as an elected body that there are other priorities and that we're going the wrong direction when it comes to the war on drugs," said Councilor Dave Norris in remarks reported by the Charlottesville Daily Progress.

"Obviously, we don't have the power to decriminalize marijuana, but I think it does send the message actually in support of those who can," said Councilor Dede Smith.

"I think that decriminalization has more to with regulation and control than it does with saying it's okay," said Councilor Kristin Szakos, the swing vote who suggested the one-paragraph compromise.

Two council members, Mayor Satyendra Huja and Councilor Kathy Galvin, voted against any reform resolution.

"I think passing such a resolution... would detract from community health, safety and welfare of our citizens," said Huja.

"I honestly cannot think that this bully pulpit can be used to send such mixed messages to our children," said Galvin. "We are spending a lot of time talking about state and federal law. This is not something we should be spending local time doing."

City police lobbied against the lowest priority language, saying that marijuana possession is already a low priority, accounting for only about 100 arrests a year out of the 5,000 made by police, and that many of those busts were incident to arrest on other charges.

"The officers in the police department are duty bound to enforce the laws of the city, state and federal governments. However, all police departments must balance the pressing enforcement needs of a community with their resources," read a memo to councilors from City Manager Maurice Jones and city Police Chief Timothy Longo. "The Charlottesville Police Department has done exactly that by utilizing its funding to appropriately address higher priority crimes in our city than marijuana possession. Knowing this, staff believes it is unnecessary to include a directive from council to de-prioritize the enforcement of personal marijuana use."

Public comment at the meeting was mixed, with the first six speakers opposing the resolution. Some referred to their own struggles with addiction, while others described it as an insidious drug that robs addicts of true happiness.

"Charlottesville will become the city of potheads," warned city resident Melanie Roberts.

But local attorney Jeff Fogel supported the resolutions, including the lowest priority language, and called the war on drugs "a colossal failure" that led to violence. "I don't think we elected the police department to make policy or law in this community," Fogel said. "And you know what, I'm not sure the police department does either."

The resolution was citizen-initiated, brought to the council by Jordan McNeish. Formerly involved with Occupy Charlotte, the 23-year-old activist has since founded a local NORML chapter. He said he had been busted for pot possession in the past.

Charlottesville is now on the record for marijuana reform. Where are Norfolk and Newport News, Roanoke and Richmond?

Charlottesville, VA
United States
Permission to Reprint: This article is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license.
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Legalize and regulate it

Legalize and regulate it already. It is ridiculous that we let this relatively harmless substance get into the hands of underground and shady dealers. These dealers have no standards so they decide to lace the marijuana with addictive and dangerous drugs like crack and meth. Also they add products which could add weight too. This makes this substance that is proven less harmful than tobacco or alcohol into a dangerous drug just like with what happened during prohibition to alcohol. Please regulate it already and base our laws on facts not emotions.

Regulation

Waking up each morning to a cocktail of prescription drugs and medications that obliterate the liver and body, cause major addiction, and chemical dependency that insures withdrawal is not a safe message to the children yet its ok because they are from doctors. The drug war is a failure losing billions of America's budget; where marijuana and hemp can replace many things in the US that are inefficient, harmfully, and addictive. 

Where I'm coming from is that "pot" isn't just something people should see as a drug. You can make hemp biodiesel for cars while gas sky rockets and even make clothing that lasts longer than cotton. Charlottesville can take this step to help move toward a more progressive nation. Creating hundreds of local jobs, new companies, and new research to ensue. 

Of course their is the argument of the children, Denver and many other places have strict policies on regulation that are a very good standard of enforcement. One policy is that any plant grown must be tagged and out of sight/ reach of the public eye; this leaves children to their average lives. It is a parent's responsibility to keep their child in line, not the government's job, the government is here to regulate in these situations with the help of local law enforcement.      

On one last note, In articles I, II, and III of the constitution it is not the job of law enforcement to make laws but to enforce them. Know your rights please; this country needs intellectuals to weigh the pros and cons of each scenario and all in all; this step in Charlottesville is one for the better. This could be the beginning of a time for a lower crime rate, a healthier and more self-efficient nation, and a beautiful place that can help preserve the natural beauty of Virginia / the US.    

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