Gov. Northam proposes legalizing marijuana this summer

Updated: Mar. 31, 2021 at 5:34 PM EDT
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RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - Governor Ralph Northam is pushing to accelerate the legalization of marijuana in Virginia.

Northam wants it to take effect this summer on July 1 instead of waiting until the summer of 2024.

According to a legislative report, Black Virginians were three-times more likely to be arrested for simple possession of marijuana even after it was decriminalized over the summer, with just a $25 fine.

“Our Commonwealth is committed to legalizing marijuana in an equitable way,” Northam said. “Virginia will become the 15th state to legalize marijuana—and these changes will ensure we do it with a focus on public safety, public health, and social justice. I am grateful to the advocates and legislators for their dedicated work on this important issue, and I look forward to this legislation passing next month.”

The governor says that drove his proposal to speed up the legislation by three years and to repair past harm.

“People of color and people not-of-color use marijuana at the same rates, but people of color are three to four times more likely to be arrested and convicted,” he said to media on Thursday.

Some of the amendments the governor is proposing includes:

  • Moving the legalization of simple-possession of one ounce of marijuana to July 1, 2021.
  • Allowing households to grow up to four plants
  • Speeding up the sealing of records on past marijuana convictions to start as soon as possible
  • Tougher laws for equitable cannabis industry labor practices
  • More money for public health awareness on marijuana such as proper police training, particularly on accurately spotting drugged driving

Virginia NOMRL is one of the groups that has been pushing for legalization for years

“In order to greatly reduce the number of arrests, Virginia needs to quickly shift fears to legalization,” said Virginia NORML Development Director Jenn Michele Pedini.

They say that they are advocates for the change, but within reason, adding that the groups know “that regulation is what places marijuana behind an age-verified counter, to best reduce youth access and to provide for public and consumer safety.”

Opponents to the proposal say it’s just a way for tobacco companies, like Richmond-based Altria, to get their hand in the pot.

“It’s no surprise to us that in the home state of a big tobacco company that actively lobbied and pushed for marijuana legalization that the timeline was pushed forward,” said Will Jones with Smart Approaches to Marijuana.

The Washington D.C.-based group says they are skeptical of the social justice motivation behind legalization.

“We see that states rush past decriminalization; they either don’t pass it or don’t give it time to be implemented before they say ‘We have to legalize.’ Because you can make money off legalization, but you don’t make money off decriminalization,” Jones added.

The amendments will now go back to the General Assembly for approval before the governor can give it a final sign-off.

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