Did a powerful Republican in the Virginia General Assembly open the door – just a crack – to marijuana decriminalization in the Old Dominion?
Let’s go to the tape – or, in this case, the Virginian-Pilot, which quoted state Sen. Thomas K. Norment Jr. appearing at a meeting on Tuesday with the Norfolk City Council.
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“I think it’s absolutely crazy that we continue to lock people up for possession of a modest amount of marijuana,” said Norment, a lawyer representing the Peninsula region who is majority leader of the state Senate and a member of Virginia’s crime commission. “We are tough on crime. It’s a question of what crimes we want to be tough on.”
Norment went on to say that he would support having the crime commission study the issue of decriminalizing pot, or reducing penalties for possessing small amounts to something that draws a ticket or fine, not a criminal charge.
The crime commission recommends actions to the General Assembly and would be the first stop in any decriminalization campaign.
Around the country, efforts are underway to make it legal to use marijuana for medicinal reasons or recreation. Voters in eight states will be asked to decide those changes on Tuesday but not in Virginia – yet.
Norment’s comments prompted a flurry of interest from the press – after all, last year he voted against a decriminalization bill. But he told the Pilot that his views may be changing. “When I speak to millennials, they see things very differently than I do,” he said.
On Wednesday, Norment spokesman Jeff Ryer was trying to calm the media commotion. “You’re like the eighth reporter who’s called me today,” he said with a sigh. “All he said is he would be willing to have it looked at by the crime commission, that’s all he said.”
Norment was not saying he will propose that the commission study the issue, and he’s “not expressing universal support for it or anything,” Ryer said. He added that Norment did not bring up the issue – it’s something the Norfolk City Council has discussed, and someone asked him about it.
So don’t go changing the tobacco leaves on the State Capitol ceiling to marijuana leaves just yet.
“Virginia is a long way from changing its drug laws,” Ryer said. But he acknowledged that the newspaper quotes are accurate. Norment “does think it’s bad when someone gets convicted on a small amount.”