Norfolk council nixes pot decriminalization for its legislative agenda

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During a Norfolk City Council workshop Tuesday, Paul Riddick said decriminalization would be an "uphill battle" in the General Assembly. (Photo Adrienne Mayfield/Southside Daily)

During a Norfolk City Council work session Tuesday, Councilman Paul Riddick said decriminalization would be “an uphill battle” in the General Assembly. (Photo Adrienne Mayfield/Southside Daily)

Norfolk City Council weighed the possibility of adding marijuana decriminalization to its 2017 legislative agenda on Tuesday. And it stopped short of doing so.

During a council work session at Norfolk City Hall about the legislative agenda for the upcoming session of the General Assembly, five council members expressed support for decriminalization: Tommy Smigiel, Paul Riddick, Andria McClellan, Angelia Williams Graves and Vice Mayor Theresa Whibley.

But after a wide-ranging discussion that included a Power Point presentation from Michelle Washington, Norfolk’s public and government relations manager, and a debate about possible repercussions from the state if the city decriminalized marijuana on its own, council did not take a formal vote. As a practical matter, though, the members opted not to add decriminalization to the city’s legislative agenda next year.

Before it was over, the discussion shed light on the thinking of several of the council members, and even possibly other jurisdictions.

“It’s an uphill battle,” said Riddick. “But I think it’s a fight that if we all think it should happen, we should embark on it.”

Smigiel referred to a Virginia Municipal League conference in Virginia Beach Monday, which featured a session about decriminalization.

“I think the session really opened up the eyes of a lot of people from around the state,” he said, noting that officials from Charlottesville and Roanoke also expressed an interest.

Vice Mayor Whibley, on the other hand, said there was public confusion about whether decriminalizing marijuana meant the same thing as legalizing it; she suggested the possibility of backing a study, to help raise awareness about decriminalization.

“It doesn’t mean that now everybody gets to walk down the street smoking weed,” she said.

For Mayor Kenneth C. Alexander, who spoke at the end of the discussion, the debate boiled down to  politics.

“I don’t think we should take any action,” he said.

Instead, in 2017, the city should build a coalition, support a decriminalization measure if delegates from other jurisdictions introduce it, and recognize they’d be unlikely to get a bill passed during the upcoming session, or even a study, because it was an election year, he said.

“I think we should continue the conversation,” he added.

This is a developing story. Additional coverage of Norfolk city council’s discussions about marijuana decriminalization Tuesday evening is available here.

 

 

 

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