Ralph Northam on Drugs
Physicians need to think more innovatively about the ways we treat acute and chronic pain. [One] high school football [athlete broke his leg and] was rushed to the hospital and started on dilaudid for his pain. He was prescribed other narcotics and became addicted. When his prescriptions ran out, he turned to heroin, and then fentanyl. To support his addiction and to avoid the symptoms of being dopesick, he took actions that led to run-ins with the law. Eventually he spent 18 months in jail.
With medically assisted treatment and counseling, the support of his family, and a strong faith in God, he has been clean for over a year. He and his father have put their family's story together in a powerful video. Please welcome Ryan Hall and his father, Sheriff Kevin Hall, to the gallery.
We want to keep people safe. But we shouldn't use valuable law enforcement time, or costly prison space, on laws that don't enhance public safety. So I'm proposing that we decriminalize simple possession of marijuana.
Current law imposes a maximum 30 days in jail for a first offense of marijuana possession. Making simple possession a civil penalty will ease overcrowding in our jails and prisons, and free up our law enforcement and court resources for offenses that are a true threat to public safety.
Moving forward on this front will have the same significance as our work together to increase the felony larceny threshold: one mistake won't define Virginians for the rest of their lives.
Northam, the first candidate in the 2017 governor's race to announce his support for marijuana decriminalization, said he believes pot could have some medicinal benefits. Northam, a pediatric neurosurgeon, argues that decriminalization may lead to more research on the use of marijuana to provide relief from pain, drug-resistant epilepsy and post-traumatic stress disorder. Northam noted the latter is of particular concern in a state with a large military and veteran population. "I'm a physician. I like to remind people there are over 100 medicines that we routinely use to take care of our patients that come from plants, so we need to be open-minded," said Northam.
While Northam was the first candidate to support decriminalization, he's not the only one who wants to open up the state's marijuana laws. [One pundit] said Northam's announcement could especially help him appeal to younger voters who he's having a difficult time connecting with.
A: Yes. I announced a criminal-justice reform package, and one of the things at the top of the list was to decriminalize marijuana. There are far too many individuals who are being arrested and locked up for that. We spend $67 million a year enforcing our marijuana laws. African Americans are 2.8 times more likely to get picked up and arrested and put in jail for smoking marijuana. So, that's a top priority of mine.
As a doctor, that step of decriminalizing marijuana needs to take place so that we can look at using marijuana for medicinal purposes. I led the fight two years ago to use what we call cannabidiol. It's an oil that comes from marijuana, and we use it in intractable epilepsy, which are seizures. There are a lot of potential uses for marijuana medicinally. To be able to decriminalize it and then use evidence-based medicine to move forward--that's very important.
Ralph Northam notes drug problems are not confined to younger people or any particular racial or ethnic group. The difference, he says, is that a lot of affluent people who "get hung up on alcohol or drugs have the resources to take care of some of it and to get themselves out of trouble, whereas the lower socioeconomic folks don't."
And use of heroin, which is an opioid, is also skyrocketing. Users addicted to prescription opioids are switching to street heroin for an economic reason: It's cheaper. Since 2010 in Virginia, the rate of heroin overdose deaths has increased nearly five-fold. And white males aged 25-44 are the largest group affected.