Norfolk council to weigh legislative push on decriminalizing marijuana

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Norfolk City Council is weighing whether to include marijuana decriminalization as part of its legislative package for the 2017 general assembly. (Photo courtesy Decriminalization Norfolk Facebook)

Norfolk City Council is mulling whether to include marijuana decriminalization as part of its legislative agenda for the 2017 general assembly. (Photo courtesy Decriminalization Norfolk Facebook)

A day after municipal officials from around the state convened a discussion in Virginia Beach about decriminalizing marijuana, the Norfolk City Council will weigh whether to include the issue on its legislative agenda for 2017.

On Monday, during the Virginia Municipal League’s three-day conference at the Virginia Beach Convention Center, one of the afternoon sessions focused on the policy implications of decriminalize marijuana. The moderator will be Norfolk councilman Thomas Smigiel, who sits on the urban section of the Vifrginia Municipal League’s legislative committee, and speakers will include Pamela Novy, policy director of NORML, Maggie Ellinger-Locke, Legislative Council for the Marijuana Policy Project and Stephen E. Heretick, who represents District 79, which includes portions of Norfolk and Portsmouth, in the House of Delegates.

During an interview Monday morning before attending the session, Jenn Michelle Pedini, executive director of Virginia NORML, said Norfolk was leading the fight to highlight marijuana decriminalization as a social justice issue.

“This is firmly rooted in how marjiuana criminalization touches the African American community,” she said. “And that issue is wholly underrepresented and discussed in Virginia.”

Smigiel did not respond to a request for comment Monday evening.

In an interview Monday after attending the conference, Pedini said a few other jurisdictions in Virginia may be interested in decriminalization, including one that is grappling with an opiate-addiction crisis. She declined to identify the municipalities by name.

“Now they have the tools to move forward,” she said. “What we’ve learned is not to reinvent the wheel.”

Next up, though, is Norfolk City Council, which is slated to take up on Tuesday whether to include decriminalization as part of its 2017 legislative agenda, Pedini said.

Council’s Oct. 11 agenda is available here.

Decriminalization advocates in Norfolk have stepped up lobbying ahead of Tuesday’s meeting.

On Facebook, Decriminalize Norfolk urged supporters to email members of council and to show up for Tuesday’s council meeting at City Hall, 810 Union St.

“It is critical that our elected officials know that this is the will of their constituency,” a post said.

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