Some Virginia lawmakers want to loosen the state's marijuana laws.
One state senator says it's time to decriminalize marijuana outright. Other legislators want to legalize derivatives of the drug for treating epilepsy.
Sen. Adam Ebbin, an Alexandria Democrat, has introduced a bill that would eliminate jail time for possession of marijuana and make it punishable by a maximum $100 civil penalty.
Ebbin said Thursday at a news conference that criminalization of marijuana not only has failed to reduce use of the drug, but has had harmful effects on society.
"It makes criminals out of regular, nonviolent citizens," he said. "It financially burdens our commonwealth to the tune of $67 million a year in law enforcement costs."
Ebbin also cited racial disparities in enforcement of the law. The American Civil Liberties Union, which supports the bill, says African-Americans are 2.8 more times likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than whites, even though they use the drug at roughly equal rates.
The measure faces an uphill battle. The House of Delegates has routinely killed decriminalization bills in the past.
Meanwhile, Sen. David Marsden, a Fairfax County Democrat, is proposing to legalize two derivatives of the marijuana plant, cannabidiol oil and THC-A oil, for treatment of debilitating epilepsy.
At an emotional committee hearing Thursday, four mothers of epileptic children pleaded for the bill's passage. They said their children have suffered serious side effects from taking legal epilepsy drugs, including depression, rage, weight gain and suicidal thoughts.
One of the children, 14-year-old Haley Smith of White Stone, suffered a seizure in her wheelchair during the hearing.
Beth Collins of Fairfax County said she and her daughter Jennifer have been living in Colorado for the past year, apart from the rest of their family, in order to obtain THC-A oil legally.
"Throw away your misconceptions," she said. "This is not a political issue. This is a health issue."
Current Virginia law allows medicinal marijuana only for treatment of cancer and glaucoma.