Thoughts on Life, Love, Politics, Hypocrisy and Coming Out in Mid-Life
Saturday, April 23, 2022
"Conservative" Christianity: An Evil in America and Russia
On a Sunday morning this month, Patriarch Kirill, head of the Russian Orthodox Church, stood in the Main Cathedral of the Russian Armed Forces outside Moscow and called on Russian soldiers to “love our fatherland … protect it, as only Russians can defend their country.” A vocal supporter of President Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine, Kirill disdains liberal culture and the acceptance of homosexuality. And he blames the West for the conflict. Of the thousands killed and wounded in Ukraine, Kirill preached, “All these are people of Holy Russia. They are our brothers and sisters.”
An established voice in Christendom, Kirill also links Putin spiritually with God. When Putin convened a February 2012 meeting of religious leaders in advance of his campaign to win a third term, Kirill called the 12 years of his rule a “miracle of God.”
How different from here at home?
Donald Trump incited the Capitol insurrection intended to reverse the 2020 presidential election. Still, White evangelical Christian leaders flock to meet with him at his private Mar-a-Lago club in Palm Beach, Fla. “They do believe he’s a man who loves our country, and he’s embraced policies that are in keeping with the truth of God’s word and that’s why they selected him,” said Robert Jeffress, pastor at First Baptist Church in Dallas and a close Trump ally.
How deep and abiding a faith?
On Jan. 6, 2021, some Trump supporters storming the U.S. Capitol carried signs declaring “Jesus Saves.” After taking over a Senate chamber hastily abandoned by Vice President Mike Pence, senators, congressional staffers and security personnel, the rioters — some clad in body armor — invoked the name of Christ as they bowed their heads and prayed. They believed they were doing the Lord’s work.
Putin’s and Trump’s people, separated by an ocean, are united in defining their countries in a view of Christianity that they believe must be fought for and preserved.
Thus in a statement before the Ukraine invasion, Kirill charged that President Volodymyr Zelensky’s government in Kyiv was infringing on Ukraine’s Moscow-linked Russian Orthodox Church, and that Putin’s “high and responsible service to the people” required Russia’s armed intervention. The troops, Kirill said, should have “no doubts they have chosen a very correct path.”
Just as Trump stood in a small Christian college in Sioux Center, Iowa, in January 2016 and said in his campaign speech, “I will tell you, Christianity is under tremendous siege, whether we want to talk about it or we don’t want to talk about it.”
“Christianity will have power,” he said. “If I’m there, you’re going to have plenty of power, you don’t need anybody else. You’re going to have somebody representing you very, very well. Remember that.”
[H]e told his crowd of supporters on the National Mall before hundreds of them marched on the Capitol, “We will never give up. We will never concede. It doesn’t happen.” The Biden presidency had to be challenged, he argued.
“If you don't fight like hell, you're not going to have a country anymore.” And on the afternoon of Jan. 6, they fought like hell, as he demanded.
This kind of White Christian nationalism has been seen at work before. And Christianity has been seen at rest, too. Both modes wreak havoc.
We saw White Christians in the South sit serenely in their pews listening to what the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. called “pious irrelevancies and sanctimonious trivialities” as blatant injustices were inflicted upon Black people. We can’t help but notice the absence of moral sensibilities in many of today’s Christian churches, as right-wing Christian nationalists, in the name of Christ, try to overturn elections, attack voting rights and convert this country into a living hell for all unlike themselves, especially people of color and members of the LGBTQ communities.
Just as Kirill’s Russian Orthodox Church is getting away with giving aid and comfort to a Kremlin butcher of innocent souls in Ukraine.
And there it is: the sins of commission and omission — both willfulness and the failure to do what is right — played out before our very eyes, at home and abroad. Without an ounce of repentance in sight.
When added to Christianity's history of murder and mayhem against non-believers in Europe and during the European conquest of the Americas and Africa and during the religious wars between rival branches of Christianity, it's hard not to see much of Christianity as an outright evil.
Friday, April 22, 2022
Democrats Must Confront the GOP Culture War
Almost 60 years ago, the historian Richard Hofstadter described what he saw as the true goal of McCarthyism. “The real function of the Great Inquisition of the 1950’s was not anything so simply rational as to turn up spies or prevent espionage,” he wrote, “or even to expose actual Communists, but to discharge resentments and frustrations, to punish, to satisfy enmities whose roots lay elsewhere than in the Communist issue itself.”
Likewise, in a much more recent book, “The Second Red Scare and the Unmaking of the New Deal Left,” the historian Landon R.Y. Storrs shows how conservatives used loyalty pledges to purge the federal bureaucracy of government officials “who hoped to advance economic and political democracy by empowering subordinated groups and setting limits on the pursuit of private profit.”
Left-leaning New Dealers in the federal government, she explains, “believed that race and gender inequality served employers by creating lower-status groups of workers who supposedly needed or deserved less, thereby applying downward pressure on all labor standards, including those of white men.
The Red Scare is, in this view, less a sudden outburst of reactionary hysteria than a political project aimed directly at dismantling the New Deal order and ousting those who helped bring it into being, both inside and outside the federal government.
I think that this perspective is a useful one to have in mind as conservatives pursue yet another witch hunt against those they perceive as enemies of American society, using whatever state power they happen to have at their disposal. Both the crusade against “critical race theory” and the slanderous campaign against L.G.B.T.Q. educators and education are as much about undermining key public goods (and stigmatizing the people who support them) as they are about generating enthusiasm for the upcoming midterm elections.
To be clear, this isn’t some secret. Christopher Rufo, a right-wing provocateur who helped instigate both the panics against “critical race theory” and against L.G.B.T.Q. educators in schools, has openly said that he hopes to destroy public education in the United States.
It’s not subtle.
Republican lawmakers are similarly open about why they ginned up this panic: to dismantle public education for political and ideological reasons. Last year, Republicans in Michigan backed a bill that would slash school funding if educators taught “critical race theory,” “anti-American” ideas about race in the United States or material from the New York Times 1619 Project.
Earlier this month, Ohio Republicans introduced a bill prohibiting any public, community or private school (that accepts vouchers) in the state from teaching, using or providing “any curriculum or instructional materials on sexual orientation or gender identity” in kindergarten through third grade. In practice, schools would likely have to remove any books or materials that deal with L.G.B.T.Q. issues. Teachers and school officials who violate the law, which mirrors a controversial Florida law its opponents call “Don’t Say Gay,” would be sanctioned with either an official admonishment, “licensure suspension, or licensure revocation” . . . School districts themselves could lose funding.
And speaking of Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill this week to make it more difficult, in some cases, for professors at public universities to attain or retain tenure, following other bills meant to curtail the teaching of “critical race theory” and, as mentioned, to keep any acknowledgment of L.G.B.T.Q. gender identity out of classrooms.
With few exceptions (most notably a Michigan state lawmaker who loudly criticized and condemned one of her Republican colleagues for accusing her of attempting to “groom” and “sexualize” kindergartners), the Democratic Party has been conspicuously quiet as these panics metastasized, even as one of them — the attack on teaching the history of race in the United States — helped deliver the Virginia governor’s mansion to Republicans.
The theory seems to be that Democrats can lose only if they engage this culture war, and that they’ll be on safer ground if they can deliver in Washington and run on their policy achievements without getting into the muck with Republicans.
Democrats have notably not delivered on many of their promises. The bulk of President Biden’s agenda is stalled in Congress, . . . . this posture toward the culture war would be a mistake. These are not just attacks on individual teachers and schools; they don’t stigmatize just vulnerable children and their communities; they are the foundation for an assault on the very idea of public education, part of the long war against public goods and collective responsibility fought by conservatives on behalf of hierarchy and capital.
These are not distractions to ignore, they are battles to be won. The culture war is here, whether Democrats like it or not. The only alternative to fighting it, is losing it.
Thursday, April 21, 2022
GOP Turns to False Insinuations of LGBT Grooming
When Michigan Democratic state Sen. Mallory McMorrow stood on the chamber floor to take on a Republican colleague who had accused her of wanting to sexually groom children, she was denouncing not just an isolated incident, but an onslaught of GOP attacks on the LGBTQ community.
“I know that hate will only win if people like me stand by and let it happen,” McMorrow said in a Senate floor speech Tuesday that swiftly went viral, gaining nearly 12 million views within a day.
The rapid escalation in public support for the LGBTQ community’s rights in recent years had quieted much of the blatant homophobia in the nation’s political discourse. But, in recent weeks, Republicans have reverted to verbal and legal assaults on the community, sometimes employing baseless tropes that suggest children are being groomed or recruited by defenders of gay rights. The efforts ahead of the midterm elections are intended to rile up the Republican base and fill the campaign coffers of its candidates, without offering evidence that any Democrat had committed a repugnant crime.
Coming nearly seven years after the U.S. Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage, the rhetorical attacks and attempts to pass scores of anti-LGBTQ legislation nationwide have sent a bracing signal of animus to the LGBTQ community and particularly to transgender youth who have been targeted in many states.
In Michigan, McMorrow had been one of three Democrats to walk out of an invocation that GOP state Sen. Lana Theis gave on the Senate floor a week ago, during which she prayed for children “under attack” from “forces.” After the walkout, Theis accused McMorrow by name in a fundraising email of wanting to “groom and sexualize kindergartners.”
In her response to Theis on the Senate floor, McMorrow called herself “the biggest threat to your hollow, hateful scheme.”
“Because you can’t claim that you’re targeting marginalized kids in the name of ‘parental rights’ if another parent is standing up and saying no. … People who are different are not the reason our roads are in bad shape, or health care costs are too high, or teachers are leaving the profession,” she said.
“We cannot let hateful people tell you otherwise to scapegoat and deflect from the fact that they’re not doing anything to fix the real issues that impact people’s lives.”
McMorrow said in an interview Wednesday that the fundraising letter demanded a public repudiation. “That was the end of it, I couldn’t just say nothing,” McMorrow said.
The viral attention her remarks received “sends a really clear message that we have to stand up and we can’t be afraid of going in on social issues,' she added. “We have to talk about hate and identify it and say it’s ugly and disgusting and what it means as a deflection of other issues.”
The new thrust counters the decision by most Republican politicians in recent years to largely avoid the subject of LGBTQ rights given widespread support from Americans. . . . Republicans recently have used language similar to Theis’s to attack their critics who speak out against the ramped-up efforts to restrict protections for LGBTQ youth. They have specifically referenced the notion of “grooming,” which is used to denote adults sexualizing children.
Several weeks ago, as Florida Republicans were pushing legislation to ban discussion of sexual orientation or gender identity in classrooms up to third grade, Gov. Ron DeSantis’s press secretary, Christina Pushaw, made an audacious claim on Twitter about the measure Democrats referred to as the “don’t say gay” bill. “If you’re against the Anti-Grooming Bill, you are probably a groomer or at least you don’t denounce the grooming of 4-8 year old children. . . . “
Critics responded in outrage while other Republicans made similar accusations.
“The Democrats are the party of pedophiles. The Democrats are the party of princess predators from Disney,” Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga,) said in an interview she posted on Twitter.
McMorrow, the Michigan Democrat, draws a direct line from the QAnon-inspired falsehoods about the 2020 presidential election and the resurgence of anti-LGBTQ attacks.
The groomer accusation is only one element in the revival of LGBTQ-focused battles popping up in campaigns across the country. Vernon Jones, a Black Republican congressional candidate in Georgia endorsed by Trump, argued recently that gay rights are not civil rights, claiming falsely that a person can choose to “go from being straight to being gay to being transgender and all these other genders.”
In Tennessee, many of the 31 bills introduced so far this year target transgender youth, including one that expanded Florida’s bill restricting LGBTQ discussion bill to prohibit instruction mentioning gender and sexual orientation education through 12th grade.
Kate Oakley, senior counsel at the Human Rights Campaign, said while attacks on the LGBTQ community never disappeared, the scale and vitriol have increased recently.
“The escalation is new. The saying the quiet part out loud is new, but the underlying animus of this is the same fear that we have seen,” Oakley said. “It’s just that they’re no longer feeling the compunction to wrap it up in a polite bow.”
Pete Buttigieg: DC Power Broker
In a year of woe and confusion for Biden — the war in Ukraine seems to be boosting a president who has been bogged down with Donald Trump–like approval ratings for many months — it has been Buttigieg who is out front and unruffled, the public face of a trillion-dollar infrastructure package that might be the president’s defining domestic-legacy item. At a time when other members of the Cabinet are struggling to escape the administration’s travails, Buttigieg has proved himself to be both a dogged defender of the president and an irrepressibly buoyant figure with a following all his own, as likely to appear in People magazine with his husband, Chasten, and the twins as on Meet the Press.
Right time, right place for Buttigieg, who will always be known, to a certain crowd, as Mayor Pete. The former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, has been marked for stardom since his Harvard days, shooting to national fame with a surprisingly viable presidential campaign in 2020. In New Hampshire, Biden cut a blistering ad mocking Buttigieg’s small-town roots — comparing the former veep’s revitalization of the U.S. auto industry with Buttigieg’s revitalization of South Bend’s sidewalks — but Buttigieg still managed to strategically endorse Biden not long after, helping consolidate votes against a surging Bernie Sanders.
If the Biden campaign seemed, at times, to subsist on whatever terror and rage Democratic voters could marshal against Trump, Buttigieg’s bid was a small taste of what Biden’s old boss had once offered curious Iowans. An openly gay military veteran making his own soaring case for aspirational liberalism, Buttigieg could captivate a packed gymnasium like Barack Obama and soon became a favorite of White House alums like David Axelrod.
Now on everyone’s shortlist of possible presidential contenders, Buttigieg is reflective, if circumspect, about his future. “I don’t know if I’ll run for office ever again,” he says, pausing carefully before answering yet another question about what comes next. “It’s there,” he acknowledges of the political chatter, particularly talk of a future clash with Vice-President Kamala Harris, who has recently been the subject of stories of palace intrigue in the press. . . . . “The main thing is just not to be distracted by it,” Buttigieg says. “There’s literally no time.” However, he admits he offers communication advice when requested to a White House that has struggled to convey its accomplishments to voters.
What he has missed about the campaign trail, he says, is “being in the room, watching faces rise and fall as I learn what really resonates.” But he is sure to diplomatically add, “It’s rewarding to be campaigning not for yourself but for an idea.”
That idea is infrastructure, a bipartisan staple of Washington that, in its nuts-and-bolts nerdiness, seems ideally suited to a politician who has always embodied the straight-A student hungry to answer the next question. . . . . He has rolled out an ambitious plan to drastically slash traffic fatalities nationwide. He is outspoken about the environmental and sociological degradation that certain highway systems have brought to communities of color. Technocrats have great sway with him
Most important, Buttigieg commands money. A Reuters analysis of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, passed by Congress late last year, estimates that around $126 billion of the $660 billion allotted to the DOT for the next five years will be for new spending. Competitive grant programs will allow him to choose where the cash flows. “Building infrastructure is like building cathedrals,” he says. “It’s very rare the person who lays the cornerstone gets to be the person who cuts the ribbon.”
Democratic politicians still bristling from the Trump years, when the penny-pinching Elaine Chao ran the department, sing hosannas for Secretary Pete. . . . . “He’s a guy who understands what it’s like being chief executive. If you’re a governor, you’re automatically on a similar wavelength with him. He’s lived in my shoes, and to some extent I’ve lived in his.”
Infrastructure money will endear Buttigieg not only to powerful Democrats across the country but to voters. For example, it will go a long way toward building a new rail tunnel between New York and New Jersey, a project Chris Christie scuttled and Trump failed to revive.
The pandemic-induced supply-chain crisis and inflation have presented steep challenges for Buttigieg, but he is calmly defensive of the administration’s performance thus far. “We’re doing a lot,” he says. “It’s worth noting that if you had looked at some of the coverage in October, you would have thought that the holidays were basically canceled, but we got through them.”
More complications loom. Spirit and Frontier, two low-cost airlines, are seeking to merge, which would create another enormous carrier in an already consolidated industry that pretty much everyone hates. Buttigieg has the power, along with the Department of Justice, to derail the merger. For now, he’s noncommittal. “It has my attention, obviously,” he insists.
Buttigieg claims he’s content in D.C. managing a massive federal bureaucracy and not campaigning for a promotion. . . . he considers this new pace of life. “I remember rejoicing any time, when I was running, that I got to be in the same hotel room for two nights in a row because that meant at least I didn’t have to pack my toothbrush.”
“Now, one, two trips a week, maximum. It’s more civilized.”
Tuesday, April 19, 2022
The GOP 2022 Campaign: Spreading Hate
Donald Trump has endorsed J.D. Vance in the race for Ohio’s Republican Senate nomination. Will Trump’s nod tip the balance? I have no idea, and frankly I don’t care.
Ohio’s G.O.P. primary has, after all, been a race to the bottom, with candidates seemingly competing to see who can be crasser, who can do the most to dumb down the debate. Vance insists that “what’s happening in Ukraine has nothing to do with our national security” and that we should focus instead on the threat from immigrants crossing our southern border. Josh Mandel, who has been leading in the polls, says that Ohio should be a “pro-God, pro-family, pro-Bitcoin state.” And so on. Any of these candidates would be a terrible senator, and it’s anyone’s guess who’d be worst.
But the thing about Vance is that while these days he gives cynical opportunism a bad name, he didn’t always seem that way. In fact, not that long ago he seemed to offer some intellectual and maybe even moral heft. His 2016 memoir . . . . offered a personal take on a real and important problem: The unraveling of society in Appalachia and more broadly for a significant segment of the white working class.
Yet neither Vance nor, as far as I can tell, any other notable figure in the Republican Party is advocating any real policies to address this problem. They’re happy to exploit white working-class resentment; but when it comes to doing anything to improve their supporters’ lives, their implicit slogan is, “Let them eat hate.”
I still encounter people who imagine that social dysfunction is mainly a problem involving nonwhite residents of big cities. But that picture is decades out of date. The social problems that have festered in 21st-century America — notably large numbers of prime-age males not working and widespread “deaths of despair” from drugs, suicide and alcohol — have if anything fallen most heavily on rural and small-town whites . . . .
What can be done? Progressives want to see more social spending, especially on families with children; this would do a lot to improve people’s lives, although it’s less clear whether it would help revive declining communities.
Back in 2016 Trump offered a different answer: protectionist trade policies that, he claimed, would revive industrial employment. The arithmetic on this claim never worked, and in practice Trump’s trade wars appear to have reduced the number of U.S. manufacturing jobs.
At this point, however, neither Trump nor any other important Republican is willing to go even that far. I’d say that G.O.P. campaigning in 2022 is all culture war, all the time, except that this would be giving Republicans too much credit. They aren’t fighting a real culture war, a conflict between rival views of what our society should look like; they’re riling up the base against phantasms, threats that don’t even exist.
[W]e’re seeing a growing focus on even more bizarre conspiracy theories, with frantic attacks on woke Disney, etc. And roughly half of self-identified Republicans believe that “top Democrats are involved in elite child sex-trafficking rings.”
What people may not realize is that Vance’s anti-immigrant rhetoric is almost as detached from reality as QAnon-type theories about Democratic pedophiles. I mean, yes, undocumented immigrants do exist. But the idea that they pose a major threat to public order is a fantasy; indeed, the evidence suggests that they’re considerably more law-abiding than native-born Americans.
And making the alleged insecurity of the southern border your signature campaign issue is especially bizarre if you’re running for office in Ohio, where immigrants make up only 4.8 percent of the population
But look, none of this is a mystery. Republicans are following an old playbook, one that would have been completely familiar to, say, czarist-era instigators of pogroms. When the people are suffering, you don’t try to solve their problems; instead, you distract them by giving them someone to hate.
And history tells us that this tactic often works.
As I said, I have no idea whether Trump’s endorsement of Vance will matter. What I do know is that the G.O.P. as a whole has turned to hate-based politics. And if you aren’t afraid, you aren’t paying attention.
Monday, April 18, 2022
Disney Didn’t Leave the GOP Behind — Culture Did
Once upon a time, Disney-bashing was primarily a liberal activity. Whether it was the company’s perceived stale, Cold War-era morality, its stranglehold on global pop culture or simply its role as one of America’s preeminent corporate monoliths, the company was a reliable punching bag for pugilistic left-of-center activists and cultural critics.
Now the tables have turned. The Walt Disney Company finds itself at the center of a controversy stoked by Republicans who, incensed by the company’s opposition to a piece of legislation recently signed into law by Gov. Ron DeSantis, are trying to paint it as the enemy of all things good, decent and godly in America. Dubbed by its enemies the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, . . . . critics say will have an overall chilling effect for gay educators, potentially driving them out of the workforce altogether.
But the details of the policy itself are almost beside the point. The attempt by Republicans to demonize one of America’s most beloved and trusted corporations seems so quixotic on its face that it invites a simple question: not “Why would they do this?” or even “Why would they think it could be done?” but “Why would it even seem advantageous to try?”
Disney has always been an explicitly morally instructive company; its characters were used as propaganda during World War II. Walt Disney’s original vision for Walt Disney World in Orlando was a model for a healthy civic society, among many other examples. Conservatives now simply disapprove of the corporation’s chosen morality, which includes commonly accepted progressive ideas about multiculturalism and personal identity.
The story of fighting back against that gradual, seemingly inevitable leftward cultural creep is more or less the story of conservatism itself. The incentives and pressures that have led conservatives on this particular quest, however — one that’s not only almost certainly hopeless, but that has led them into sinister rhetorical territory in referring to opponents of the law as “groomers,” or manipulative pedophiles — are quite modern, and reveal how much both our cultural and political landscape have shifted over just the past decade of American life.
Disney’s original critics from the left accused the company of whitewashing American life and spreading the post-war nuclear-family myth to unwilling recipients across the globe. What both the company’s cultural architects and critics could both agree on is that it represented, at least by the standards of pop culture, the middle-brow American mainstream.
The conservative critique of Disney today is premised on the idea that by aligning with liberal social causes, it’s left that mainstream behind. . . . . have turned a discrete disagreement over a piece of legislation into the fulcrum for a full-fledged culture war.
They now accuse notionally LGBT-friendly companies like Disney of “grooming” children — an astonishingly cynical rhetorical flourish that, by misappropriating a term used to describe pedophiles, manages to conflate homosexuality and pedophilia, profoundly disrespect actual survivors of child sex abuse by using their experience as a political cudgel, and invoke the specter of far-right conspiracy theories like “Pizzagate” all at once.
The approach recalls the anti-gay crusades of the 1970s. A soundbite from conservative activist and erstwhile pop star Anita Bryant that’s made the rounds since the introduction of the Florida bill could have come from the keyboard of Rufo or any number of today’s anti-gay activists . . .
By contrast, Disney’s move toward broader LGBTQ-friendliness is in lockstep with the American public; support for gay rights has been on an unbroken and steep rise for the past decade.
The GOP attacks on Disney are reminiscent above all else of their unsuccessful campaign against the NFL, with its support for the Black Lives Matter movement. Both are among the few remaining monocultural institutions in American life and present an irresistible opportunity to make a broader case about the national “character.” . . . . conservatives have conflated corporate messaging with support for extreme edge cases within each issue, like police abolition or medical youth gender transition, hoping that Americans will do the same.
Embedded in that effort is the recognition that when it comes to the core issues at hand — support for the racial justice movement and LGBTQ rights — the ship has sailed leftward and has been doing so since the 1960s, if not before. If you’re a committed conservative activist, that’s a genuine cause for lamentation. If you’re an ambitious Republican like Ron DeSantis, it’s a potential opportunity to win the base’s fealty.
But in their choice of target, and the hateful and off-putting character of their attack to all but the most extremely online conservative activists, they’ve unwittingly revealed just how little leverage they really wield when it comes to America’s cultural mainstream.
Sunday, April 17, 2022
Youngkin Seeks to Reciminalize Young Blacks
Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) has proposed increasing the penalty for personal possession of more than two ounces of marijuana in Virginia, less than a year after it became the first state in the South to legalize recreational use.
Youngkin’s amendment would also limit what hemp products can be sold — a change that some CBD sellers saw as a victory compared to the more restrictive bill that came to his desk.
Under the current law, it’s legal for Virginia adults 21 and over to possess up to an ounce of marijuana and cultivate up to four plants in their household. Possessing more than one ounce but less than a pound is subject to a civil penalty of $25, while possessing more than a pound is considered a felony, punishable by up to 10 years in prison.
Youngkin’s proposal would create two new tiers of enforcement: a Class 2 misdemeanor for personal possession of more than two ounces, and a Class 1 misdemeanor for more than six ounces but under a pound. . . . The governor’s amendments for this special session will go to the House and Senate for approval April 27.
Youngkin made the enforcement proposal Monday as an amendment to a bill sponsored by Sen. Emmett W. Hanger Jr. (R-Augusta) that was originally intended to regulate the hemp market and prohibit retail marijuana products in the shape of a human, animal, vehicle or fruit.
Some legalization and social equity advocates this week voiced concern about the consequences of adding new criminal offenses for personal possession — especially for Virginia’s communities of color.
Democrats had framed much of their legalization push as a step to limit disparate enforcement of drug laws. Black Americans are arrested at 3.64 times the rate of White people for having marijuana, even though they use it at similar rates, according to an American Civil Liberties Union review of charges between 2010 and 2018.
“This change by the Administration would reactivate the criminalization of marijuana by taking people back to criminal court with the possibility of incarceration,” the Joint CannaJustice Coalition, a group of social-equity and legalization-advocacy organizations, wrote in a statement Tuesday. “This criminalization of a legal substance stops people from accessing housing, increases chances of deportation, and blocks student loan opportunities. Legislating new crimes associated with the possession of marijuana is working away from the priorities of decriminalization.”
“Instead of creating new ways to criminalize Virginians for personal possession of legal cannabis, the administration ought to be focused on establishing a retail market for adult-use marijuana to ensure that products are safe, convenient, affordable and sold only to those 21 and over,” said JM Pedini, development director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws and executive director of Virginia NORML.
Said Ebbin, who has been one of the primary voices in Virginia’s legalization push: “While it’s maybe appropriate to establish the intermediate penalty, it seems a little bit harsh to have jail time for people using a legal substance.”
At the same time, advocates who were hoping to see a stronger crackdown on unregulated and synthetic products said the governor’s proposed regulations were too loose. Pedini, of NORML, lamented that the changes, which would only limit Delta-8, would leave the door open for other synthetically modified and extremely potent versions of THC to enter the market.
Virginians made a huge mistake putting Youngkin in office and some of the foolish soccer moms who voted for him may end up seeing the teenage darlings with criminal records.