Even as rioting damages large sections of Richmond and the Virginia General Assembly convenes in a special session, Mayor Levar Stoney wants lawmakers to take action — not on fighting lawlessness, but to help people get stoned.
Stoney used his bully pulpit to call for the Assembly to legalize marijuana.
He sent a letter to that effect to Gov. Ralph Northam, House Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn (D-Fairfax County) and Senate Majority Leader Richard Saslaw (D-Fairfax).
Stoney tweeted a copy of the letter and said, “This special session has the potential to change our Commonwealth forever. I urge our lawmakers to unequivocally pursue restorative justice, on August 18 and going forward.”
This special session has the potential to change our Commonwealth forever. I urge our lawmakers to unequivocally pursue restorative justice, on August 18 and going forward. pic.twitter.com/Qt6jfn5Qqx
— Levar M. Stoney (@LevarStoney) August 11, 2020
His letter says:
Not only do marijuana arrests comprise a majority of the total arrests in Virginia, but out of those arrests a disproportionate number are of Black people. Let’s not forget the negative impact an arrest and conviction can have on someone’s life, especially when it comes to employment and housing opportunities.
Stoney’s other wishlist items include a statewide database to track alleged police misconduct; budget funds for mental health services; expunge misdemeanors; and give money for a statewide eviction diversion program.
Stoney’s office did not immediately reply to a request for comment from The Virginia Star.
Some question Stoney’s timing, especially with his being up for re-election in November.
One of his opponents, Richmond Councilwoman Kim Gray, told The Star that Stoney’s marijuana push came out of nowhere and, “He seems to be all over the place lately.”
Attention needs to be paid to Richmond’s issues, especially residential areas where people are not able to enjoy their homes and feel safe, Gray said; adding:
The number one issue is thousands of children in the city have no access to internet and computers and we’re going fully virtual and will create long-term issues if we don’t remedy that immediately. The most pressing immediate issue is the restoration of peace in our city and putting an end to the lawlessness that’s been going on for months.
Another mayoral candidate, businessman Justin Griffin – who vehemently opposed Stoney’s downtown development arena – said in email:
With on-going violence and rioting, the economic fallout from the pandemic restrictions still being in place, the school system deciding to have all virtual schooling, and a looming budget crisis, it is completely inappropriate to be focusing on legalization of marijuana at the state level right now.
But Mayor Stoney’s focus has always been on what’s next for his political career instead of on improving our city government.
When pressed on Stoney objectives, Griffin minced no words:
He is focused on that topic because he wants to build his resume for a statewide run. Just like he asked the Governor for a mask mandate right before the Governor issued the statewide mask mandate, which he now campaigns on saying he pushed for it. He doesn’t want to miss the boat on being able to say that he had something to do with it happening. It is his way of doing no work but still taking credit for accomplishing something.
He is more worried about his political resume than the people of Richmond.
State Sen. Joe Morrissey (D-Richmond) called the letter “pure posturing” and “pure puffery.”
Morrissey said 13 legislators, including himself, introduced legislation last year to legalize marijuana. While it has been decriminalized, it has not yet been legalized but is moving in that direction. Stoney, however, did not say a word about the matter last year so as not to offend white voters.”
“Now that he has utterly failed to control the protest movement in Richmond, now he is segueing into legislative matters,” Morrissey added.
“That is because Stoney feels he needs to fix relations with his black base. Four weeks ago there were calls for his resignation after tear gas was deployed against protesters.”
The Democratic Richmond state senator went further: “Stoney has lost white voters with his handling of the protests, so now he is extending an olive branch to blacks.”
“There are many state senators saying, ‘Stoney, take care of city business first,’” Morrissey said. “‘Stay in your own lane.’”
“The proof that this is pure theatrics is Stoney said nothing last year when this debate was raging in the General Assembly,” Morrissey said. “Get your own ship in order first, Mayor, and then you can make some suggestions to us.”
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Jason M. Reynolds has more than 20 years’ experience as a journalist at outlets of all sizes.
Photo “Levar Stoney” and “Letter to the Governor” by Levar Stoney.