COLUMN — Should we really legalize marijuana?

Published 11:45 am Thursday, December 10, 2020

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Over the years that I have been in the General Assembly, there has always been an effort by some to change the laws on the use of marijuana. This year it rapidly came to a head.

The debate probably reached a peak with Gov. Ralph Northam’s decision to push for recreational use. This is a position unheard of for a governor just a few years ago.

Medical Use

When I first went to the General Assembly, the issue was that some wanted the laws dealing with the use of marijuana to be changed. Early on, the issue was from those who wanted to be able to obtain and use marijuana for medical reasons. Many told me of how marijuana relieved certain types of chronic pain, sometimes better than prescription medicine, and was less addictive. This led to law changes that eventually allowed five companies to grow and process marijuana plants. These operations are now coming into use and are being closely regulated to assure that their product only goes to those with an identified medical need.

Recreational Use

Earlier this year, after a few years of evaluation regarding the effects of the laws of possession and recreational use, the majority decided it was time to end the criminal penalties involved with possession and personal use, replacing that criminal charge with a simple monetary fine if caught. The argument used was that it would eliminate the cost of keeping people in our prisons and jails. Likewise, it would save a young person from ending up with a criminal record that would follow them for the rest of their life. Little was said about how often drug charges were in addition to other crimes.

Tax Money

Now comes our governor pushing to make use legal for all adults in Virginia. It is sad that our governor, who is a medical doctor, has taken this position. From his press release, it is obvious that his greatest priority is how much money the state can take in by taxing marijuana.

He is overlooking that there are costs involved that he may not need to worry about during his term in office but that we will be stuck with, as will those who follow, and Virginia businesses will be negatively affected. For years, this governor and his predecessors warned of the health risks of smoking cigarettes. Now we have a governor that is effectively encouraging citizens to take smoke into their lungs simply to enrich government.

Gov. Northam might overlook this danger, but he should do a better job of understanding that he is burdening employers with the task of protecting their employees and businesses. The federal government bars commercial truck drivers from use, thankfully, because how many of us want to be on the highway with a loaded semi-tractor driver high on any drug? MADD, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, has fought for years to toughen the laws about keeping drunks off the road. Now we will have another thing to worry about — a doped-up driver barreling down the roads near our loved ones. We have a way to test for how much alcohol is in one’s system; is there such a test for marijuana?

The governor has not addressed the fact that marijuana does affect the motivation of some users. How will employers cope with an employee that does not respect the rules, such as showing up for work on time every day. If an employer determines that some employees are negatively affected by the use of marijuana, will he be able to fire employees, or will the governor allow a bureaucrat from the Department of Labor and Industry to step in and prevent the employer from operating his business as he or she sees fit? Has the governor talked with the insurance industry as to how increased use will affect workplace safety and insurance premiums?


The greatest of my concerns is for those under 18. Drug dealers are in the business to make money. If the state takes over the role of legally selling to adults, this will lead to more dealers instead focusing their efforts on selling to younger and younger Virginians. Is this really the direction that we should be going in as a society?

Frank Ruff Jr. represents Charlotte in the state Senate. His email address is