Virginia Republican Open to Marijuana Decriminalization

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Shockwaves were set off in the Virginia political world Wednesday as a top Republican lawmaker suggests it's time for the General Assembly to consider decriminalizing marijuana.

State Senate majority leader Tommy Norment says he has had a change of heart. He recently said in Norfolk, "it's absolutely crazy that we continue to lock people up for possession of a modest amount of marijuana."

Decriminalization generally means that the criminal penalty of possessing pot is reduced, more like treating it as a traffic offense. Norment also said he's concerned about the stigma people experience from a criminal record over marijuana.

While he doesn't foresee much traction next legislative session, he says he will ask the Virginia Crime Commission to study the issue and consider a bill for 2018.

Advocates of reforming marijuana laws in Virginia welcomed Norment's comments.

"A surprise seeing it come from a conservative lawmaker, however Senator Norment clearly stated that he's been exposed to data and as an attorney, he was willing to objectively view it and it certainly changed his mind," said Jenn Michelle Pedini, the executive director at Virginia NORML.

Virginia NORML, a marijuana policy reform organization, is also hoping to see lawmakers finalize a bill that would set up a regulatory framework for cannabis oil production.

The General Assembly already approved severe epilepsy patients and caretakers to have a legal defense if they're questioned about using medical marijuana oil for treatment.

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