Gov. Northam pushes to legalize marijuana

Virginia governor pushes to legalize marijuana

RICHMOND, Va. (AP/WWBT) - Gov. Ralph Northam is pushing to legalize marijuana for recreational use in Virginia, which could be the first Southern state to make the drug legal for recreational use.

Northam announced his support for legalization Monday, saying he wants a responsible approach that promotes racial equity and preserves youth safety.

It’s a process that could take up to two years before it’s official, but the talks are expected to begin as soon as January when the General Assembly re-convenes.

The head of Virginia’s chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, or Norml, says one of the biggest issues around this is the fact weed is being sold on the streets right now and sometimes in establishments. It’s all underground, and Norml says this doesn’t have to be the case.

“Legalizing marijuana will happen…We’re going to do it right and it will take time,” Northam said Monday.

He’s throwing his support behind legalizing recreational marijuana use in the Commonwealth and says it will help eliminate racial disparities when it comes to arrests.

“Whites and people of color use marijuana at the same rates but people of color are three times more likely to be arrested and convicted. Those are some of the data we have. It’s an equity issue,” Northam added.

Norml says there are other benefits of legalization.

“Every year Virginia chooses not to legalize the responsible use of cannabis by adults, it is effectively seeding control of the marijuana market to unregulated, untaxed, criminal enterprises,” said Jenn Michele of Norml. “Legalization and regulation provide the oversight regarding who may legally operate in these markets and provide guidelines so that those who do can engage in best practices ensuring that the market is safe and transparent.”

Michelle sits on the governor’s panel that is studying how to make marijuana legal. Michelle says the fight surrounds responsible use, which means not driving while using marijuana, resisting abuse and respecting the rights of others.

“That’s what legalization is, it’s the legalization of responsible use and specifically by adults,” Michelle added.

Advocates for legalization will hold a virtual event to spark a community conversation. It will be held early next month to gather more ideas on how to move forward before the General Assembly meets. If you’re interested in learning more, click here.

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