A day after Washington voted to decriminalize marijuana last week, a Richmond protest planned by the U.S. Marijuana Party of Virginia didn't go exactly as planned. The location and time were hazy — was it on East Broad Street or West? — and a lead organizer had car trouble. Only about a dozen people showed up.
But Marijuana Party organizer John Johnson, an active-duty Army staff sergeant who grew up in Richmond, says the rally, while botched, is only the first of many actions the group hopes will put its agenda in the spotlight.
"We don't want nothing like Colorado or Washington," Johnson says, referring to the recent legalization of controlled marijuana in those states. Instead, his draft legislation calls for making the drug "no different than corn or wheat."
The District of Columbia's ballot measure, approved Nov. 4, allows the growth and possession of small amounts of marijuana but prohibits people from selling it. It still faces congressional approval.
Johnson says the U.S. Marijuana Party of Virginia has more ambitious goals. He plans to propose a 40-page bill at the General Assembly that calls for complete legalization, and says more local protests will coincide with the legislators' return in January.
"We don't want another bill that artificially raises the price of marijuana," Johnson says. "We want dispensaries, but we don't want to have a bunch of restrictions just to keep lawyers employed."
The national chairman of the Denver-based group, Bill Chengelis, says 11 chapters have sprouted following the success of legalization movements in the West. While the Virginia cohort is in its early stages, he says, he he's hopeful that the longstanding prohibition soon will end.
"I used to write for a Grateful Dead magazine based out of Richmond," Chengelis says. "That tells me there are enlightened people in the state of Virginia."