|Bismarck, the NOVA NORML mascot, appeared at a recent advocacy event in Annandale.|
According to the results of a nationwide public opinion poll, released Dec. 19, only 29 percent of Americans oppose legalization of small amounts of marijuana for personal use. That’s down from 55 percent in 2010.
NOVA NORML has two main objectives, says one of the group’s leaders: to build support among the community for decriminalization and to push for legislative action in the General Assembly.
That’s not likely to happen any time soon, however, as Virginia is fairly conservative when it comes to anti-drug policy and doesn’t allow for public referendums, which is how Colorado and other states were able to move toward legalization.
Still, the group is promoting the argument that if marijuana is regulated and taxed by the state, it would generate substantial revenue for the commonwealth. It would also create a lot of new jobs and strengthen the overall economy.
Further, NOVA NORML and other advocacy groups, like Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, contends legalization would make sense for other reasons: Marijuana is much less of a health risk than alcohol or tobacco, and the war on drugs is not working and is diverting resources away from more serious crimes.
It’s not just stoners pushing for more reasonable marijuana laws. NOVA NORMAL members include middle-aged government workers, libertarians opposed to government regulation, people with medical needs, and soccer moms who’ve seen young people’s lives ruined over minor drug infractions.
For example, there’s an Arlington mother who joined NOVA NORML after getting caught up in a legal nightmare when her son was busted for selling less than half an ounce of pot when he was a freshman at Longwood University in rural Farmville, Va., in April 2010. He was arrested six months later and charged with a misdemeanor.
His parents hired a local attorney, who advised them to cooperate with the police. So, for the next year and a-half, he was asked to wear a wire and help the police catch other people. The prosecutor promised to lighten his sentence if he cooperated.
His parents went to court in Farmville about five times, and the case kept getting delayed with a new court date set. Meanwhile, they watched helplessly as their son was forced to become an informant and deceive other students. “One kid got charged with a felony for selling on campus,” the mother said. “My son got jumped in a bar because he turned in someone in. People were mad at him. They didn’t know he was an informant, but suspected it.”
He ultimately got three or four kids arrested. The whole ordeal dragged on for three years. “Prosecutors told him his case couldn’t be settled until the cases were settled for all the people he turned in,” his mother said. The parents later learned that the person their son sold the weed to, a girlfriend of one of his fraternity brothers, had been in the same boat. She also had been arrested and was forced to entrap other other people.
“Parents need to be aware that this is going on,” she said. “It is rampant.” She now thinks it would have been better if he just pleaded guilty and gone to jail. The prosecutor was recommending a $2,500 fine and two weeks in jail.
Her son graduated in August 2013 with a major in sociology. Now 24, he’s living at home trying to find a job. The case was never prosecuted but wasn’t dropped, so it’s still on his record that he was charged for a crime although he wasn’t convicted. In the end, his parents paid about $5,000 for an attorney and will have to pay another $2,000 to get his record expunged.
“Parents need to be forewarned,” she said. “Kids are going to make mistakes. If your kid gets caught with a little bit of pot, you could face three years of hell. This could happen to anyone.” She agreed to share her story because “we would like to save someone else from that heartbreak.”