Virginia Governor Ralph Northam Monday announced that he will introduce and support legislation to legalize marijuana in the Commonwealth of Virginia.
The announcement came as the Northam Administration prepares to release a report on the impact of legalizing adult-use marijuana, compiled with input from government officials, policy experts, healthcare professionals, and community leaders.
“It’s time to legalize marijuana in Virginia,” said the governor. “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.”
The administration is working with lawmakers to finalize legislation in advance of the 2021 General Assembly session. In his announcement, the governor made clear that any legislation to legalize adult-use marijuana will need to address five principles: 1) Social equity, racial equity, and economic equity. Marijuana prohibition has historically been based in discrimination, and the impact of criminalization laws have disproportionately harmed minority communities as result. 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. 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. 2) Public health. Legislation should include substance abuse prevention efforts in schools and communities. 3) Protections for young people. As a pediatrician, Gov. Northam will require any legislation include protections for Virginia’s youth, including age limits, mandatory ID checks and education campaigns. 4) 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. 5) Data collection. Legislation should ensure Virginia collects appropriate and ongoing information on safety, health and equity.
Northam has already this calendar year signed legislation that decriminalized simple marijuana possession in Virginia. The legislation required the Secretaries of Agriculture and Forestry; Finance, Health and Human Resources; and Public Safety and Homeland Security to convene a Virginia Marijuana Legalization Work Group to study the impact on the commonwealth of legalizing the sale and personal use of marijuana and to report the recommendations of the work group to the general assembly and the governor by Nov. 30, 2020.
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