Virginia Governor Ralph Northam said Monday that he supports the legalization of Marijuana use for adults in the commonwealth.
“Legalizing marijuana will happen in Virginia,” the governor said during a briefing on Monday.
“We are going to move forward with the legalization of marijuana in Virginia. I support this, and I’m committed to doing it the right way.”
Northam also said that he plans to introduce and support bills to legalize the drug and that his administration is already working closely with state lawmakers to finalize legislation in advance of the Virginia General Assembly 2021 regular session, which begins on January 13.
With 56 days left until the start of the session, it is not yet clear if that legislation would garner enough votes to pass both the House of Delegates and the Senate.
In a press release, the governor stated that any legislation from the Assembly would need to address principles of social, racial and economic equity, public health, protections for young people, data collection and upholding the Virginia Clean Air Act.
Virginia would become the first southern state to legalize cannabis, and would join 15 other states and Washington D.C. that have already made the drug legal.
In recent years, policies on marijuana have become less strict. In 2017, medical use of cannabidiol, otherwise known as CBD was allowed and in 2019 a statewide medical marijuana program was authorized. This year, Northam signed legislation into law decriminalizing marijuana and reducing the penalty for people caught with small amounts to a civil fine of $25.
“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,” Northam said in the press release. “I look forward to working with the General Assembly to get this right.”
One factor of the governor’s decision was a report released and presented Monday by the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission (JLARC), which studied the possibility of marijuana legalization and any potential impacts in the Commonwealth.
Some of the key findings of the report include: legalization could produce more than $300 million in sales tax revenue in the 5th year of operations, create approximately 11,000 to 18,000 jobs in the state, decrease marijuana arrests by an estimated 84 percent and that establishing a commercial market would take more than two years and cost between $8 to $20 million upfront.
The report also found that from 2010-2019 the arrest rate of Black people for marijuana possession was 3.5 times higher than the arrest rate of White people. Additionally, Black people were convicted for cannabis offenses at a 3.9 times higher rate than white people.
Other findings of the report concluded that one-time expungement of marijuana possession offenses could benefit 120,000 Virginians and the state could allow localities to choose if they wanted to participate in the commercial market.
For legalization to be possible, the state legislature would need to address a number of related issues, such as individual possession laws and an age limit, regulation for use in public and while driving as well as home cultivation and illegal cultivation and distribution, according to the report.
Overall, the report included 13 changes, eight recommendations and five options, to current Virginia law that “would likely be necessary or could be considered” if the state chooses to legalize cannabis.
The JLARC study did not review or offer a recommendation on whether or not marijuana should become legal, however.
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