RICHMOND, Va. - Governor Northam announced Monday that he will introduce legislation in support of the legalization of marijuana in the Commonwealth.
The Northam Administration says they are preparing to release a report on the impact of legalizing adult-use marijuana. The report is said to be compiled with robust input from government officials, policy experts, healthcare professionals, and community leaders.
“It’s time to legalize marijuana in Virginia,” said Governor Northam. “Our Commonwealth has an opportunity to be the first state in the South to take this step, and we will lead with a focus on equity, public health, and public safety. I look forward to working with the General Assembly to get this right.”
Northam's administration is working with lawmakers to finalize legislation in advance of the 2021 General Assembly session.
On Monday, Northam made clear with his announcement that any legislation to legalize marijuana will need to address the following five principles:
- Social equity, racial equity, and economic equity: A report of the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission (JLARC) issued Monday found that Black Virginians are arrested and convicted for marijuana use at more than three times the rate of white Virginians. Northam says legislation should focus on undoing these harms by including initiatives such as social equity license programs, access to capital, community reinvestment, and sealing or expunging records of past marijuana-related convictions.
- Public health: Legislation should include substance abuse prevention efforts in schools and communities.
- Protections for young people: Northam will require any legislation include protections for Virginia’s youth, including age limits, mandatory ID checks, and education campaigns.
- Upholding the Virginia Indoor Clean Air Act: Legislation should be aligned with the Virginia Indoor Clean Air Act prohibiting indoor tobacco use, which Governor Northam championed as a state Senator.
- Data collection: Legislation should ensure Virginia collects appropriate and ongoing information on safety, health, and equity.
“This is something that we've been studying, we've been looking at for some time,” Virginia Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry Bettina Ring said.
Ring talked with News 3 following Northam’s announcement Monday.
“Sometimes, communities of color are disproportionately impacted by what happens through the legalization, or when we haven't had legalization of marijuana. That's something that we take very seriously,” she said. “How do we make sure that this is beneficial? There will be opportunities for marketing, distribution, production of this product, and we want to make sure there are opportunities for small businesses, as well as larger businesses.”
The JLARC study also pointed out an eventual estimated $177-300 million in net tax revenue after operational costs if the state set the marijuana sales tax at 25 percent.
“When we're looking at legalizing marijuana, we're really looking at protecting the public and consumers,” Virginia NORML (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws) Executive Director Jenn Michelle Pedini said.
Pedini told News 3, if passed, they believe the state would need an agency geared towards cannabis regulation.
“The state really does need an agency that can create that regulatory ecosystem for cannabis,” Pedini said.
But others are against the idea.
Monday afternoon, the Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police and Foundation, Inc. released this statement to News 3:
“The Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police strongly opposes the legalization of marijuana or any other dangerous drug. Use of marijuana by young people will increase; traffic crashes involving marijuana-impaired drivers will increase; and the black market for marijuana will continue at the same rate or possibly increase, as evidenced by other states. State legalization of marijuana would put Virginia in direct conflict with federal law.”
Ring said they recognize concern from law enforcement and have been engaged with them.
“We want to make sure that we're looking at ensuring that youth are not using marijuana,” she said. “We want to make sure the right policies are in place. The right laws are in place. We want to work very closely with law enforcement as we move forward.”
Attorney General Mark R. Herring, one of the Commonwealth’s leading advocates for cannabis reform and marijuana legalization, issued the below statement in response to the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission’s (JLARC) report “Key Considerations for Marijuana Legalization.”
“This JLARC report just confirms what I have long been saying – Virginia needs to allow legal, regulated adult use of marijuana as a matter of public safety, justice, equity, and economic opportunity. For too long, the Commonwealth’s approach to cannabis was needlessly and disproportionately saddling Black Virginians and people of color with convictions and this report shows just how important legalizing marijuana is for promoting equity in Virginia.
“We now have an even clearer picture of how disproportionately Virginia’s marijuana laws were affecting Black Virginians and Virginians of color, but we also have a more defined roadmap for how to navigate and implement these policies. I am proud of what we have already been able to accomplish and I look forward to working with my colleagues and advocacy partners as we continue to move Virginia forward on a path towards full legalization.”
Governor Northam signed legislation that took effect July 1 that decriminalized simple marijuana possession in Virginia.