Efforts to reform marijuana laws in Virginia need to be incremental, focused on building alliances across political and ideological lines and should put the faces of those whose lives have been adversely affected by the current system out front, state Del. Rob Krupicka said Thursday.
Krupicka, an Alexandria Democrat who represents part of Arlington in the state General Assembly, was speaking at what organizers called a "strategy chat" with the Northern Virginia chapter of the National Organization to Reform Marijuana Laws, or NORML, at Bailey's Pub & Grill in Ballston.
In progressive areas like Northern Virginia, Krupicka said, it's fairly safe for him to support some reforms. "It's not as easy for other politicians around the state," he said.
Krupicka specifically mentioned a state law that allows students caught with marijuana at school to be expelled, calling it "stupid" at one point and "crazy" at another. "We don't kick kids out of school if they have a bottle of beer in their car," he said.
But talking about proposing a bill to reform that law helped highlight several of his points.
For one thing, Krupicka said he could take it up as an education bill. Different bills, depending on how they are worded and presented, end up in different committees in Richmond — and that's caused many a bill to reform marijuana laws to die with very little debate.
Further, education advocates may be sympathetic to changing the law, given the negative long-term consequences a teenager can face for a relatively minor mistake. Krupicka talked often about the importance of alliances, telling the NORML crowd to look to libertarian-leaning delegates or Republicans in vulnerable districts as potential allies. (Nineteen Republicans are in districts that President Barack Obama and Sen. Tim Kaine won in November, he said.)
Changing the expulsion law also illustrates potential roadblocks. Krupicka said school board and teachers associations could easily kill any reform effort. Those groups can't oppose the reform if it is to be successful.
When looking for allies, "giving people space to wade into the water without thinking they're taking a big political risk" is important, he said. Bills aimed at incremental change are more likely to get support from elected officials worried about upsetting people back home.
Krupicka offered to reserve a room in the Virginia State Capitol for a reception if NORML would like to hold a legislative day during the next session to meet with various delegates and senators.
He also advised advocates not to overburden elected officials with facts when presenting their case. Pick the five most compelling facts, he said, and find someone with a story that illustrates why the current system is broken. "It would help if it's someone's grandma," he said. Personal stories carry weight.
"I feel like I'm being a little bit too honest," he said at one point.
Putting a face on a statistics and building relationships will change more minds than any testimony given before a legislative committee, he said.
"Soften them up so maybe they'll try it if enough of their friends do it," he said, referring to voting but still getting a few laughs.
Krupicka's predecessor, David Englin, was known for pushing efforts to reform state marijuana laws.
Krupicka told Patch that medicinal marijuana now being available in DC puts pressure on Virginia to catch up. Beyond that, he said, he doesn't expect this state to make more than incremental progress on reform.
Kirby Myers, the acting president of Northern Virginia NORML, told Patch that the group's goal was to "move forward with reforms in a way that makes people comfortable."
This article has been edited.