Va. lawmaker proposes selling marijuana in liquor stores


Virginia Del. David Englin (D-Alexandria) works on his laptop during the House session at the Capitol in Richmond on Jan. 23. Englin wants to study the possibility of legalizing the use of marijuana and selling it through state-run liquor stores. (Steve Helber/The Associated Press)
January 24, 2012

Del. David L. Englin wants you to know that he’s no pothead.

The husband, father and Air Force veteran said he has never smoked marijuana — let alone inhaled — but he still wants to study the possibility of legalizing the drug in Virginia.

Englin (D-Alexandria) has introduced a bill this legislative session that would create a group to figure out how much money the state could reap if it legalized marijuana and sold it in more than 300 Virginia liquor stores.

“All of the respectable people in our community who are secretly toking on the side are giving their money to criminals,’’ Englin said. “Over the years, a surprising number of constituents have said, ‘Hey, David, instead of raising taxes if we need more revenue, why don’t we legalize marijuana and sell it in the ABC?’ I figure . . . I would at least start the conversation.’’

The District has approved marijuana for medical use, and in blue Maryland, Republicans and Democrats have introduced bills to expand a law that limits a defendant’s criminal liability for the medical use of marijuana.

But Virginia has become more conservative in recent years. Progressive issues haven’t fared well. It’s not the “Virginia way,” as some legislators say.

“We don’t see any laws passing in Virginia,’’ said Allen St. Pierre, executive director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. “We see it as a victory if [bills] are passed in one committee.’’

It’s true that the idea has been met with some skepticism — and more than a few jokes.

Legislators have been known to break into song on the floor (“Can’t you smell that smell? Ooh, ooh that smell”) or speak in a voice that sounds as if they have had a puff or two. Mostly, there have been a lot of chuckles.

“It would boost ABC revenue, but if David thinks it’s going to pass, he’s smoking his own proposal,’’ Del. Robert H. Brink (D-Arlington) quipped.

Delegates from the other side of the aisle aren’t quite so kind.

“I could say criminals profit from robbing banks, too,’’ Del. David B. Albo (R-Fairfax) said. “They don’t want to make that legal, do they?”

House Speaker William J. Howell (R-Stafford) said he ran into Englin in an elevator and told him that the bill would not go anywhere. But he said it with a smile.

“The people of Virginia aren’t ready for that,’’ Howell said.

Fourteen states have some kind of marijuana decriminalization law; 16 states and the District allow medical cannabis, according to St. Pierre.

Last year, 26 states considered marijuana-related legislation, and he expects a similar number this year.

Englin’s bill, which calls for results of a study by next year’s legislative session, has been sent to the House Rules Committee. No one — Englin included — expects it will go far.

Englin said that he is not surprised at the response his legislation has received from his colleagues but that the e-mails and calls to his office are overwhelmingly in favor of the bill.

“It’s a creative and provocative idea, so I’m not surprised by those kinds of reactions,’’ he said. “You’d be surprised at how many people who spend their days wearing suits and working in professional settings in the D.C. metro area and Virginia pull me over and whisper in my ear and say, ‘Great idea.’ ”

For several years, Del. Harvey B. Morgan, an 81-year-old, bow-tie-wearing Republican pharmacist from Gloucester County, has proposed either legalizing marijuana or at least permitting its use for medical reasons — but with no success and more than a few snickers.

Englin wants people to understand that the legislation is not his top priority. He has filed more than two dozen bills, including one asking the governor to petition the federal Drug Enforcement Administration to move marijuana from a Schedule I drug to Schedule II.

“The bill is getting the respect it’s due,’’ Del. Timothy D. Hugo (R-Fairfax) said, laughing.

Comments
Show Comments
Most Read Local