Virginia Democrats are pushing a bill that allows prosecutors to reduce any drug possession to a Class 1 misdemeanor if the possession amounts to less than one gram of the substance. House Bill 455, carried by Delegate Katrina Callsen, a newly elected Democrat representing the Charlottesville area, would reduce the possession penalty from a Class 5 felony. While the rest of the country is focused on stemming the scourge of fentanyl, this bill would move in the opposite direction. The bill deals with Schedule I or II substances, which include drugs known colloquially as cocaine, meth, and yes, fentanyl. 

According to the Drug Enforcement Agency, just two milligrams of fentanyl can be a lethal dose. For those doing the math at home, this bill significantly reduces the penalties associated with a drug, which, at less than one gram, is still capable of killing 500 people. 

Aside from being facially dangerous, Virginia’s HB455 is another one of Democrats’ attempts to utterly derail the rule of law and legalize all drugs. The argument underlying this measure, which has received little press, is the supposition that a small amount of drugs isn’t patently dangerous—or felonious. But Virginia law already lets many users off the hook, meaning HB455 would incentivize continual drug abuse, and moreover, the liberalization of drug laws hasn’t been the boon we’ve been promised. 

In 2013, Governor Bob McDonnell signed into law Virginia Code Section 18.2-251, otherwise known as the “first offender” program. This Section 251 permits those with a first-time felonious drug offense to participate in a year of supervised probation and treatment alongside community service. At the culmination of the twelve months, and with successful completion of the program’s requirements, the felony drug offense must be dismissed. 

The goal was never to criminalize addicts. People who have a drug problem should be able to get help—and our state provides that option at minimal cost. Section 251 also recognizes that those with a first-time felony drug offense should not necessarily be immediately made felons. 

Given this existing lax policy, if HB455 becomes law, users would be given continual bites at the apple before facing a felony. This seems to indicate Virginia hardly cares about drugs permeating our communities. 

Does that matter? Sure it does. Look at the cities, states, and countries that have taken the extra step and legalized all drug use. About six months ago, major news organizations covered the rising crime problem in the country of Portugal, strongly suspected to be a direct result of it legalizing all drugs. But we need not go so far to see the effects of full drug legalization. Portland, Ore., decriminalized all drugs in 2020, and not only has crime exploded, but also overdose deaths have spiked. Although hardly any media outlets have covered the Portland crisis, the city has become a place where strung-out people lay in the street. Is that the country we want?

It may not be a pleasant reality, but drug users often need a push to receive treatment or help. Sometimes, that comes in the form of a friend, but other times, getting arrested serves as a wake-up call. I’ve personally seen it many times. 

Moreover, drugs are rarely a stand-alone problem for individuals and communities. One study estimated that approximately 86.4% of homicides were linked to drug use in some form. While the easy thing to do is shrug off drug use as unworthy of prosecutorial attention, the facts don’t lie. Instead of turning to HB455, let’s look at Portland. Let’s look at Portugal. Even the experts would likely have to agree—this is a step in the wrong direction.