Has Luxembourg become the first to legalize cannabis in Europe? Reports are circulating that the country of 600,000 recently became the first country in Europe to legalize the production and consumption of cannabis. However, news of this should be taken with a grain of salt. Despite growing movements for cannabis reform in Europe, many countries […]
Category: cannabis decriminalization
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Could cannabis legalization in Italy be on the horizon? A new proposal seeking to legalize cannabis for personal use while easing criminal penalties is making waves in the country of love. In just a week, #referendumcannabis garnered well over 500,000 online signatures. It’s the first referendum to ever do so fully online, writes a post […]
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Cannabis Decriminalized in New Orleans On Thursday, August 5, New Orleans took a historic step. The New Orleans City Council passed a series of articles to pardon cannabis-related charges and any future charges. Effectively aiming to decriminalize cannabis, the city is making an effort to work with the NOPD to end the war on weed. […]
On Friday, May 28, 2021, the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act was reintroduced in the U.S. congress. Back in December 2020, it passed the House of Representatives but didn’t advance in the Senate. This year, with a new senate majority leader, the cannabis industry is more hopeful and numerous organizations and advocacy groups are pushing for another vote by the end of June. Will cannabis become legal in the U.S. this month?
Cannabis laws are constantly changing. Although legalization is the ultimate goal, there are many legislative steps we must take in order to get there. To learn more about the MORE act and other regulations, make sure to subscribe to the CBD Flowers Weekly Newsletter – your source for all the most up-to-date cannabis information, as well as access to exclusive deals on flowers and other products.
What is The MORE Act?
One of the most important things to remember with the MORE Act is that it will NOT legalize cannabis. If passed, H.B. 3884 would decriminalize and deschedule cannabis from its current position as a schedule 1 narcotic. For a drug to listed under schedule 1 of the controlled substances act, it needs to meet the following criteria: no currently accepted medical uses and a high potential for abuse.
In case you were wondering how absolutely asinine the drug schedules are, consider the fact that cannabis and magic mushrooms are categorized as schedule 1, which is reserved for the most dangerous drugs, whereas cocaine and methamphetamine are listed as schedule 2. Other drugs like codeine, ketamine, and steroids are schedule 3. So, since we know that cannabis has many therapeutic uses, and it’s not dangerous nor is it addictive, removing it from the list of schedule 1 narcotics is a very welcomed change.
Also, take note that decriminalization is very different from full legalization, but I’ll cover more on that later. For now, let’s take a look at the most important points of the bill. First and foremost, the bill intends to address various social justice issues that have been plaguing the cannabis industry for decades. For example, the MORE act would establish a process to expunge convictions and conduct sentencing review hearings related to federal cannabis offenses.
People with felony cannabis convictions will no longer be barred from obtaining business permits. The Small Business Administration would establish the Cannabis Restorative Opportunity Program, which would provide any necessary aid to businesses owned and operated by “socially and economically disadvantaged individuals.” Additionally, this bill would prevent the federal government from denying benefits and social services to cannabis users, as has been the case in the past.
The MORE Act would also impose a 5% tax on all cannabis products, and the revenue would be deposited into a trust fund that would support various programs and services for individuals and businesses that have been most impacted by the war on the drugs. According to a 2020 report by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), people of color are three times more likely to be arrested and prosecuted for cannabis possession than white people. The ACLU estimates that taxpayers pay approximately $3.6 billion each year on the enforcement of cannabis prohibition laws.
“The whole intention and vision behind this bill is that it would repair past harms of drug prohibition,” said Maritza Perez, national affairs director at the Drug Policy Alliance, a nonprofit working to reform drug laws. “We’re hoping that another successful House vote would continue to pile on momentum.”
Decriminalization vs Legalization
The terms “decriminalization” and “legalization” are often used interchangeably, but they are very different. The ultimate goal is full legalization of cannabis, or the act of removing most legal prohibitions against it (age restrictions would still apply, like with tobacco and alcohol sales). If cannabis is completely legalized, individuals found selling or possessing it for personal use will not be subject to criminal OR civil penalties.
On the other hand, cannabis decriminalization would mean that it is still federally illegal, but criminal penalties would not be enforced. Instead, users would face civil penalties such as fines and forced rehabilitation. Records may be kept in a local tribunal, but they will not affect employment, housing, or travel opportunities. If an individual is court-ordered into a rehab program, and they chose not to attend, it’s possible that criminal penalties would be imposed at that point.
Decriminalization is a completely pointless step in between prohibition and legalization that allows for too much “interpretation” of the law. For example, in a decriminalized state, a police officer can take your cannabis, fine you, and send you to court where your case will end up getting thrown out if it meets the criteria of a legal decriminalized amount. So, you’re out the money you spent on flower that remains confiscated, the city doesn’t get any additional money from you because the case is tossed out in court, and the entire ordeal is a mega waste of time for everyone involved.
Marijuana/marihuana vs Cannabis
One more thing that I did not mention above is that the MORE ACT will change up the lingo we’re currently familiar with. Statutory references to marijuana and marihuana would be officially replaced with the word “cannabis”. To some, this may seem pointless (and ironic considering the name of the bill still uses the word “marijuana”), but it is a significant change.
Now remember, the word for the entire plant and all of its parts is Cannabis. For legal purposes, marijuana is used to describe cannabis with more than 0.3% THC and hemp is used to describe cannabis with less than 0.3% THC. From this point, Cannabis can be broken down into three additional subtypes: Cannabis sativa, Cannabis indica, and Cannabis ruderalis. These subtypes can apply to both marijuana and hemp. This vocabulary is the most common way to differentiate between cannabis types at the regulatory cutoff point. However, the word itself, “marijuana“ (or “marihuana” as the government likes to call it), is a loaded one historically.
Before 1910, the word “marijuana: did not exist in American culture. Instead, “Cannabis” was used when discussing the plant as a medicinal remedy. Back then, Bristol-Meyer’s Squib, Eli Lilly, and other current pharmaceutical giants used to include cannabis extracts, and sometimes even whole plant matter, in their medicine formulations. After 1910, the United States started getting an influx of legal immigrants, mostly from Mexico, who were seeking refuge post-war. It was during that time that the idea of smoking cannabis recreationally was becoming ingrained within the American mainstream culture. Up until then, it was used mostly therapeutically.
Fast forward to the 1930s, when Harry Anslinger, the first commissioner of the newly established Federal Bureau of Narcotics, launched his war against “marijuana”. Although “cannabis” has been part of United States history since the very beginning, “marijuana” was viewed as this new dangerous substance that lurked in the shadows of America’s counterculture. If there was one thing Anslinger was good at, it was without a doubt, media manipulation. During his numerous public appearances, some of which were to promote his trademark film Reefer Madness, Anslinger made sure to use the term “marijuana”, to keep people from making that connection with medicinal cannabis.
To sum it up, the word itself is not racist, it’s actually Spanish. But the word “marijuana” was adopted by a racist individual who used it alongside targeted fear mongering and prejudice against Hispanic immigrants, as the central focus of his campaign against the Cannabis plant. Today, the industry is taking the word back, using it in a professional manner that’s more rooted in science, not politics. However, until now, all government documents that discussed cannabis in any form have been referring to it as “marihuana”, which incorrect and incredibly outdated.
Taxation of Illegal Goods in the United States
Another confusing point for many people is probably the 5% tax. If a product is decriminalized, it’s still technically illegal, and how can you tax an illegal product? While that may sound like a catch 22, in the United States it is actually very common to tax illegal goods, services, and other enterprises.
Taxation of illegal income in the United States arises from the provisions of the Internal Revenue Code (IRC), enacted by the U.S. Congress mainly for the purpose of taxing net income. As such, all taxable income will be subject to the same Federal income tax rules, regardless of whether the income was obtained legally or illegally. So basically, the government cares less about what you’re doing if you make sure to give them a cut of the money you’re making.
One interesting example of this would be drug tax stamps. Say you go out and buy some meth from your local dealer, your next move would likely be to go home and consume it, but according to the government, you should first pay taxes on your illegal purchase. In case you’re wondering how, it’s quite simple. All you need to do is go to your state’s Department of Revenue website and purchase your prepaid drug tax stamps (the government says it’s completely anonymous but I’m honestly not sure if I trust that), which serve as proof of your tax payment.
Unsurprisingly, it’s not very common for people to actually pay these taxes voluntarily. As of now, only 17 states are still imposing the stamps. However, in those states, if you get arrested for drug possession, you will likely face harsher civil or criminal penalties for “tax evasion”, and you might get stuck paying double what you would have paid if you did it up front.
This probably sounds like a way for the greedy government to get extra money, and it is. But on the flipside, people paying taxes on their ill-gotten gains are also eligible to claim deductions for any “ordinary and necessary expenses paid or incurred during the taxable year in carrying on a trade or business,” as stated in section 162(a) of the Securities Act of 1933. Yeah, our government is pretty strange.
Honestly, it seems unlikely that the MORE Act will pass as it is currently written. It’s very likely that Senate republicans may use the filibuster to block this bill. Many conservatives have expressed concern over some of the language in this bill, stating that it is not as economically-oriented as they would like it to be, and that it lacks provisions for veteran business owners. Although it seems largely symbolic, the MORE act is still being hailed as positive step for cannabis reform.
“Since I introduced the MORE Act last Congress, numerous states across the nation, including my home state of New York, have moved to legalize marijuana,” said House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y. “Our federal laws must keep up with this pace.”
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One by one, US states have been adopting marijuana legalization programs, with the latest two: New York and New Mexico, happening within 24 hours of each other, and bringing the total number of states with legalization policies to 17. The south has been a bit slower to adopt, with states like Maryland, Virginia, and now Texas, leading the way. Within the last month, the Texas senate approved several bills for marijuana decriminalization, as well as to expand the medical cannabis industry, lower the penalty on THC concentrates, and to force the study of psychedelics.
The recent Texas marijuana decriminalization bill shows just how accepted cannabis has become. Every state seems to be updating its policies these days, creating room for more and more products, in a bigger and bigger market. And this is excellent for you! New products are on the rise, like delta-8 THC. This alternate form of THC provides users with a clear-headed, slightly less psychoactive high, and none of the anxiety created by delta-9. Sound interesting? If it does, we’ve got a host of Delta-8 THC products to try out. So go ahead and pick your products, and we’ll get them to you ASAP.
The US and cannabis
On the nights of March 31st 2021 and April 1st, 2021, New York and New Mexico respectively, passed legislation to open the two states for recreational cannabis markets. These two added on to become the 16th and 17th states to adopt legalization policies, with 20 locations total in the US, including Washington, DC, and the territories Guam and the Mariana Islands. All locations together include: Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Guam, Illinois, Maine, Mariana Islands, Massachusetts, Michigan, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Nevada, Oregon, South Dakota, Vermont, Washington, and Washington DC.
As you’ll notice, though New Mexico, Arizona, and California are in the south, or have southern parts that touch the Mexican border, no state on the list is associated with ‘the South’, and certainly not of ‘the deep South’. However, two over from Arizona to the right, is Texas. And Texas is considered ‘the South’, along with Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia.
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Of the states listed as ‘southern’, there are no current legalizations for recreational cannabis, however, the following states do have some form of medical cannabis legalization: Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, Texas, Virginia, and West Virginia. Not bad for an area that was completely against such changes when the first medical legalizations happened a few decades ago.
The other measure to consider, are those with decriminalization policies. Here we have the following southern states: Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, Tennessee (partially), and Virginia. Of these southern decriminalized states, Maryland, Mississippi, and Virginia each have both a full medical legalization, and a decriminalization measure in place.
Texas and cannabis laws
Texas might be considering marijuana decriminalization now, but it took some time to get there. Texas has had an interesting and varying relationship with cannabis. After banning it in 1931, Texas actually was known for having the strictest laws on file for marijuana users. Up until 1973, possession of even the smallest amounts was considered a felony, with such offenses garnering two years to life in prison. In 1973, this changed with the passage of House Bill 447 which reduced punishments (without decriminalizing). The new law set the policy that having up to two ounces was lowered to a class B misdemeanor, with a punishment of $1,000 in fines, and up to 180 days in prison, and with suspended driving privileges. That fine has been increased to $2,000 according to current listings.
The current law states: 2-4 ounces is also a misdemeanor, but punishable by up to one year in prison, and $4,000 in fines. 4+ ounces constitutes a felony charge. Four ounces comes with a mandatory minimum sentence of 180 days in prison, and can go as high as 99 years for those caught with more than 2,000 pounds. The largest mandatory minimum sentence is for 2,000 pounds, which is punishable by at least five years.
In terms of being caught selling cannabis, its a misdemeanor with seven grams or less, punishable by 6-12 months in prison, and fines of $2,000 – $4,000. From 7 grams – 5 pounds is a felony charge, punishable by 6 months – 2 years in prison, with the six months acting as a mandatory minimum sentence. This amount can incur a fine of up to $10,000. For 50+ pounds, the charge remains a felony, prison time goes from 2-99 years, with two years as a mandatory minimum sentence for five pounds, and 10 years as a mandatory minimum sentence for over 2,000 pounds. Fines go from $10,000 – $100,000. Selling to a minor will earn a person 2- 10 years in prison with the two being a mandatory minimum requirement. Such a sale would also constitute a fine of up to $10,000.
Relatively recent updates
In 2007, House Bill 2391 was signed by then governor Rick Perry, which gave law enforcement the ability to ‘cite and release’ for misdemeanor crimes. A policy that was meant to limit arrests, by giving officers the ability to issue a citation without making an arrest. This was actually followed up in 2015 with an attempted recreational legalization measure through House Bill 2165. The bill passed the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee, but did not have time in the legislative session to make it further.
In 2015, cannabis for medical purposes was legalized, but on a very limited basis though Senate Bill 339 – Texas Compassionate Use Act. This was expanded on in 2019 through House Bill 3703 which increased the number of conditions that qualified for medical cannabis. Also in 2019, the house approved House Bill 63 which would have greatly reduced penalties, but upon passage, Dan Patrick – the Lieutenant Governor, blocked it from a senate vote.
2019 was a big year for Texas and cannabis legislation. That year also saw the passage of House Bill 1325 which legalized the cultivation of industrial hemp, and the manufacture of hemp-based products like CBD, without a doctor’s approval. This officially changed the definition of ‘cannabis’ in the state, effectively causing many jail sentences to be dismissed and criminal records to be expunged. Everything that was just mentioned is federal, with local states and municipalities creating their own decriminalization measures as seen fit.
What is going on now?
Quite a bit actually. 2021 is certainly looking to be an interesting year for Texas and drugs in general. Here are the four bills currently working their ways through the system.
Texas Marijuana Decriminalization – Updates:
What is clear from looking at the legislation – both that passed and did not, is that there is definitely a push in Texas for marijuana decriminalization/legalization. This was expanded on yet again with a few different legal advances. The first is the recent passage in the House, of House Bill 441, which decreases criminal punishments for small amounts of cannabis possession. In fact, the bill would supposedly make up to one ounce a class C misdemeanor with no jail time attached, or loss of driving privileges, effectively decriminalizing that amount. Officers in this case would only be able to issue a citation.
If Texas passes this marijuana decriminalization bill, it would also purportedly end the threat of arrest for small possession cases. Fines are still attached, but the bill would set the amount at no more than $500. The offender would have to pay the fine and plead no contest or guilty to the charge (so there is one), in order for the case to be deferred for a year.
Upon completion of a year without incident, no criminal record would be attached. If you’ll notice, this isn’t really a decriminalization at all, since offenders would have to plead guilty to a crime in court, in order to not go to jail. And the idea of it being ‘decriminalized’ only comes into play if the offender follows a specific procedure, indicating that if they do not, they might still face criminal charges. In that way, it might not eliminate the threat of jail time, instead, simply giving a possible way around it. This point has not been well addressed, as its stated both that the bill would abolish prison for such crimes, and that a procedure must be followed in order to bypass a criminal charge.
Texas is also looking to further update its medical marijuana policies. House Bill 1535 would do this to include all cancer patients and PTSD patients. It did leave out chronic pain sufferers (a strange omission considering the growing opioid epidemic). There had been a provision to the bill which allowed the Department of State Health Services to expand qualifying conditions as needed, but this was eliminated. So was a larger 5% THC cap, which was reduced to 1%. The senate vote was scheduled for May 25th, however this is not a given.
Another big move in Texas right now, is with House Bill 2593. This bill would lower the penalties for being caught with THC concentrates and THC infused products, which are currently felonies. This bill would make it so that under two ounces of concentrate or infused products would only be a Class B misdemeanor, making it the same penalty as cannabis flowers. While the house passed the bill, the senate added another provision to create a definition of ‘total THC’, with all isomers included under it, like delta-8 THC.
Of course, this makes sense given that every delta THC will have the same chemical structure. If/when this bill passes, it would criminalize delta-8 THC in all the same ways as delta-9. This too makes sense, since we already know that delta-8 is federally illegal. Since the senate made edits to the bill, the house has the option of either simply accepting these new additions, or to set up a committee to iron out differences, after which it would go to the governor. It is currently unclear which way it will go.
In a confirmation of the importance of the growing medical psychedelics field, the Texas House of Representatives recently passed House Bill 1802, which would actually require the state to further study psychedelics to treat veterans. The bill specifically cites MDMA, ketamine (a close relative of eskatamine which is currently available as Spravato), and psilocybin from magic mushrooms. Research would be conducted as a partnership between the state of Texas and Baylor College of Medicine.
This bill, like the others mentioned, still requires passage in the senate or house, and then to be signed into law by the governor.
A full recreational legalization would have been nice, but that doesn’t always happen as desired. In place of that, it looks like Texas will be passing a marijuana decriminalization bill, as well as lightening the punishments for concentrates, expanding the medical industry, and starting the study of psychedelics. Texas is certainly doing some moving and shaking to update its very outdated laws on cannabis…and psychedelics.
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Disclaimer: Hi, I’m a researcher and writer. I’m not a doctor, lawyer, or businessperson. All information in my articles is sourced and referenced, and all opinions stated are mine. I am not giving anyone advise, and though I am more than happy to discuss topics, should someone have a further question or concern, they should seek guidance from a relevant professional.
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When it comes to Virginia and cannabis, Virginia didn’t see any big changes with the last US election. This is because the state had already decriminalized cannabis earlier this spring, and expanded on its own medical legalization policy this past summer. However, there’s one other thing when it comes to Virginia and cannabis, something that’s often misunderstood. Virginia was actually the first state to legalize medicinal marijuana, back in 1979.
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Was Virginia really first?
Indeed it was! And it went through with practically no buzz at all. In 1979, Virginia did an overhaul of its drug laws which included the inclusion of the use of cannabis medicines for people specifically suffering from glaucoma and cancer. The medical legalization allowed patients with these illnesses to receive the medications, but wasn’t expanded on past that point for many, many years. In fact, it wasn’t until 2017 that the bill was finally expanded to include more conditions and generally looser policies. It was updated yet again in the summer of 2020.
So, what happened to the bill? Not much. The issue with legalizations is that they don’t come compact with finished frameworks for regulation. They merely state the decision to change the legality of a specific thing. Once the status is changed, especially when a former black-market product becomes a regular market product, there has to be some kind of setup for how it’ll work. Will it be taxed, at what rate, and by what entity? How can it be used exactly, and where? Are there age restrictions? What’s the cost, and is there a cost ceiling? Where can the product come from, and what are the regulations for producing it?
These things and more must be figured out, and if they aren’t, the legalization is open to much debate in court, apart from the fact that it stymies the ability to have an operational industry. For years the law sat, practically unknown to the Board of Medicine, attorney general, or court system in general.
To say that it passed quietly is true, but this didn’t stop its near repeal two decades later. In 1996, upon California’s debate to legalize cannabis for medical use, Virginia suddenly became more aware of its own cannabis standing, and there was a major political fight that made it look like the bill would be repealed. One of the issues that led to this attempt to repeal, was that the law as it was written, allowed any doctor to recommend cannabis use, not just doctors in the state. It was probably written like this originally, because no other state had a legalization policy. In the end, it wasn’t repealed, but that didn’t mean much.
Why did no one hear about Virginia and its new-age cannabis policy back in the late 70’s, 80’s, or 90’s? Because it just sat there. No body to oversee anything, no laws on the books. Just a legalization that hung out there, essentially doing nothing. And barely being noticed until California did its thing.
How are California and Virginia different?
When people say that California was the first to pass a medical cannabis bill, in a way it is true. Virginia was the first state to allow any kind of cannabis use medically, but that was really a part of a much bigger bill. Sort of an afterthought to it.
California, on the other hand, crafted a bill specifically for the use of cannabis in medicine. Called the Medical Use of Marijuana Initiative (or, The Compassionate Use Act), not only was it a bill centered around medical marijuana use specifically, but it was a ballot measure which was voted in by its people through Proposition 215. Virginians never knew that their laws were tweaked to allow medical cannabis use in 1979, it was never put out there for them, voted on by them, or explained to them in any way.
For California, it wasn’t a tiny add-on to another bill, but rather its own. In that way, California was most certainly the first US state to craft and pass its own medical cannabis bill, centered on cannabis, and about medical cannabis only. For anyone who thinks this makes it the first cannabis legalization, this would be incorrect, and it goes back to Virginia earning that title. Unfortunately, the title meant very little as the state dragged its feet to institute the policy.
Where else can this be seen?
Mexico is a great example of this right now. In 2018, the country legalized recreational cannabis use through its court system, which forced the legislative system to come up with laws to match the judiciary system. The laws were due out quite some time ago, but for various reasons have been postponed repeatedly, with the current date not until the spring. This leaves Mexico in a weird legal limbo. Some things like selling and trafficking are always illegal (and don’t require new legislation). Other things like use and possession are more fluid. How much a person has and what they’re doing with it, could mean the difference between a jail sentence, paying a fine, and nothing at all. The world has been watching Mexico and waiting for the outcome, for Virginia, there were no eyes on it, and so a suspended animation was created for decades with no movement.
States like New Jersey, Arizona, South Dakota, and Montana are in the same boat. All four just changed their legalizations policies for medical, recreational, or both, in the last election, meaning they have new laws, but no framework yet to use them. The idea is always to get the regulations hammered out quickly so as not to maintain a system where there is legal ambiguity. After all, if someone gets arrested for an act now that has technically been made legal, but which has no actual laws to govern it, it creates a gray area that can be argued extensively in court.
Post elections, it was announced that the governor of Virginia was pushing for an adult-use recreational policy. When states like California, Oregon, and Maine went legal, it wasn’t a huge surprise, but Virginia would be the first southern state to legalize marijuana, highlighting a major shift in overall thought regarding cannabis policy.
Virginia is a southern state, with a cannabis decriminalization policy that was signed by the governor in May 2020, and went into effect July 1st. The law (SB2 and HB 972) decriminalizes up to an ounce of cannabis. Virginia can swing red or blue, and like other states – both north and south – has both a strong conservative and liberal foundation. When looking at the other US locations that have legalized for recreational use, they all have one thing in common, they are not in the south, and have generally stronger liberal bases. There have been more medical legalizations in these states (West Virginia has one, Mississippi just voted one in), but many of the holdout states like Georgia and South Carolina (no medicinal legalization, recreational legalization, or decriminalization measures), are in the south.
Virginia is not the only southern state to decriminalize. It joins Mississippi, which decriminalized small amounts of cannabis in 1978; and Missouri which decriminalized up to 10 grams in 2014. But, if Virginia actually passes a recreational cannabis measure, it’ll be the first southern state to do so.
When it comes to new cannabis legalization measures, there are many firsts, and not all of them are terribly impressive. Virginia could have been a massively trailblazing state, but instead passed a huge legalization measure for the time, and then essentially went and took a nap for two decades. When it comes to Virginia and cannabis, it’s a story of not just the overall change in legalization policies, but the idea that such policies are reaching down to places that have been holding onto their marijuana illegalization laws very tightly. Just the fact that the legalization passed in 1979 says something, just like Virginia being one of only a few states in the region to consider cannabis legalizations of any kind. If Virginia legalizes cannabis recreationally, it’ll go back to being the first. In this case, the first southern state to break away and change course.
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