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Virginia’s Governor Just Met Willie’s Reserve. That’s Messed Up.

September 19, 2016
The Richmond Times-Dispatch posted a humorous item earlier this morning. It’s a photo of Willie Nelson and Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe enjoying a laugh in Willie’s trailer during last weekend’s 2016 Farm Aid concert in Bristow, Va. What’s funny about the photo is the presence of what looks very much like a container of Willie’s Reserve, the country star’s cannabis brand, sitting on the table between the two men.

The Times-Dispatch reports that “Willie Nelson’s wife, Annie Nelson, posted the photo on Twitter Saturday night with the message ‘UH-OH Trouble!’”

Well, yes, it would be trouble if Terry McAuliffe weren’t the governor. Or if he weren’t a white man. But he’s both. So no trouble.

The problem isn’t that the governor of Virginia offered a hearty greeting to a guest raising money for farmers and overlooked the cannabis resting on the table. It’s that McAuliffe presides over a state that arrests more than 20,000 citizens every year for some type of cannabis offense. And the racial disparity inherent in those arrests remains one of the worst in the nation. African-Americans make up a little under 20 percent of Virginia’s population. And yet, according to the ACLU’s landmark study, “The War on Marijuana in Black and White,” they made up more than 43 percent of Virginians arrested for cannabis in 2010. Usage rates between blacks and whites are the same.

In fact, even as states around the nation were legalizing cannabis and decriminalizing its possession, Virginia actually increased its arrests, especially in black communities. Researchers for the Drug Policy Alliance found that cannabis possession arrests increased from 13,032 in 2003 to 22,948 in 2014. From 2011 to 2013, possession arrests increased by 1,987, with black Virginians accounting for 82 percent of that increase.

Gov. McAuliffe campaigned as a candidate who “expresses support for medical marijuana,” but so far has done nothing except sign a tepid bill allowing the use of CBD oil.

Here’s a link to the current law covering cannabis possession in Virginia: Code of Virginia, 18.2-250.1.  “It is illegal for any person knowingly or intentionally to possess marijuana,” reads the code. Violation of the law may result in up to a $500 fine and up to 30 days in jail.

Exactly 22,948 Virginians were arrested for violation of 18.2-250.1 in 2014, the most recent year for which we have statistics. They didn’t get to share a chuckle with Willie Nelson. They saw the inside of a jail cell and had their lives severely disrupted, if not ruined.

But hey! If you’re popping by Bristow for the Farm Aid show, it’s no big deal. And truly: It is no big deal. If Gov. McAuliffe can chuckle over a can of Willie’s Reserve, the rest of his state’s citizens deserve to do the same. It’s time for him to feel some embarrassment, connect the dots, and get to work. The Virginia Legislature convenes on Jan. 11, 2017. We hope to see a serious cannabis reform bill, with the governor’s backing, introduced on opening day.

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  • arsenic

    Sooo…what is the dark cylindrical object partially hidden by the can of Willie’s? I’m up for some irresponsible speculation!

  • Mirage Arts

    Good for Willy’s wife posting the photo. Governer caught in the act with a package of his marijuana brand is somewhat awkward for the governors track record concerning Virginia cannabis law. I hope he does not support a double standard state government. Farmers should be allowed to grow industrial hemp commercially throughout the country. Vote Hemp!

  • Aris

    I support Portugal to lead the next United Nations General Assembly Special Session on Drugs 2019. Portugal not only complied with “The Political Declaration and Plan Of Action on International Cooperation towards an Integrated and Balanced Strategy to Counter the World Drug Problem”, but they’ve far exceeded the U.N agreement to resolve the drug epidemic, in which the U.S fails at miserably.
    Rodrigo Duterte’s preventing the Philippines from substantial economic growth by continuing a useless War on Drugs. America spends over $51 billion annually to fund the War on Drugs that does more harm than good. Portugal decriminalized drugs and has seen a plummet in drug abuse, a 66% drop in drug related court cases and a decline in HIV cases. Portugal has also reported a 20% increase in drug treatment. At 0.9% Portugal has the lowest drug use rate of any Western European country (6.1% UK, 4.6% Italy, and 3.2% Germany). 46.4% of America’s prison population are all drug offenses. That’s 85,419 inmates, according to statistics based on prior month’s data sheet – March 20, 2016. Drug abuse is a health issue, not a crime issue. The solution to drug abuse is proper medical drug treatments, not solitary confinement.
    Now compare the Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte and American President Nixon’s political approach on drug abuse to Portugal’s drug decriminalization policy. Do you honestly think Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte, America’s DEA law enforcement and anybody who support’s the War on Drugs knows anything about what they’re talking about when it comes to helping drug addicts? By the way, Rodrigo Duterte demonstrates no understanding in economics, and neither does Congressman Manny Pacquiao.
    The prohibition against hemp cannabis is completely inappropriate and unethically immoral. I’m agitated of the fact just knowing that these government officials indoctrinate citizens to accept the law as a fundamental fact, instead of granting them the encouragement to ask fundamental questions. According to Law Enforcements standard, as a member of society, you obey or face the consequences without question. The job and responsibility of active duty law enforcement is to guard liberty and protect life, yet through these inappropriate laws, they violate liberty and destroy lives. The law has been perverted in the hands of the governing elites. It is employed to do the very thing that the law is designed to prevent. The enforcer turns out to be the main violator of its own standards.

    “When law and morality contradict each other, the citizen has the cruel alternative of either losing his moral sense or losing his respect for the law.” — Bastiat, “The Law”