Good news for Virginia: The governor of Virginia, Ralph Northam along with some top lawmakers recently revealed a bill that would legalize marijuana in the state. So far, all signs indicate that legislators plan to move rapidly to advance it – and if successful, it will make Virginia the first Southern state to do so.
With the Virginia Governor looking to legalize recreational cannabis, the new proposal allows adults 21 and older to purchase and possess up to one ounce (27grams) of cannabis. In addition, adults are allowed to grow up to four plants for personal use, two of which can be in the flowering phase.
The legislature decriminalized minor marijuana possession last year, and since then, advocates have kept their eyes set on more comprehensive reform. The time has seemingly come for Virginia to join the green green grass of what will soon be home to a legal cannabis market.
What Compelled Northam?
The story goes that Northam – a practicing pediatric neurologist – who has never personally tried marijuana, has come to support legalization after learning about how communities of color are excessively affected by its criminalization.
Northam revealed relative studies that have shown that minority and White populations use marijuana in similar rates – but that people of color are three times as likely to be arrested for it.
He is also a firm promoter of what he has personally seen: The benefits of marijuana-derived substances in treating children with epilepsy and other disorders.
Northam – the very Virginia Governor looking to legalize recreational cannabis – made a point of following public opinion polls that show increasing support for legalization; and are deadset on moving forward with the legalization of marijuana in Virginia,
In support of this, he’s committed to doing things the right way, and added that the time is right to start doing so.
What the Virginia Marijuana Legalization Bill Entails:
- A first-time offense will now set you back a $25 fine, which is much better than the $500 fine and 30-day jail stay.
- People with prior marijuana convictions’ records will be automatically expunged, and those currently serving sentences can get a resentencing hearing.
- Possession of up to one ounce would be lawful for adults. It would make possession of more than an ounce to 5 pounds of marijuana a civil penalty punishable by a $25 fine.
- A new 21% tax would be imposed on cannabis sales. Additionally, local jurisdictions that allow the operation of marijuana businesses could levy 3% added tax. Existing state sales taxes would also apply on purchases, for an estimated 30% tax rate.
- Revenue from the new state tax would go toward funding pre-k education, a Cannabis Equity Reinvestment Fund, substance misuse and treatment programs and public health initiatives.
- Local municipalities would have to proactively opt-in to allow cannabis businesses to operate in their area. That could be achieved through an action of a local city council or via a ballot measure initiated by voters.
- The state’s alcohol regulatory body would be renamed the Virginia Alcoholic Beverage and Cannabis Control Authority, and would be responsible for promulgating rules and issuing licenses.
- There will be five main licensing categories: cultivation, manufacturing, testing, wholesaler and retail. People can hold licenses from multiple categories in some cases, and there will also be exceptions to the general rule(s).
Central Virginia Delegate Wendell Walker is hoping the legislation goes up in smoke. Certainly, he won’t count as one of Northam’s supporters here. Walker, who represents the 23rd district, ironically supported legislation for medical marijuana, whilst calling it a gateway drug.
According to Walker and his fellows, marijuana is but a drug that can lead to harder drugs, hence the term ‘gateway’. But we are already well passed the narrow-minded view which embodies the gateway perspective. And there to support the governor, are many others.
According to Michelle Pedini, National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, and executive director of Virginia’s chapter for the advocacy group NORML, legalization positively provides public and consumer safety through regulatory mandates, licensing, and transparency.
In defense to Walker, Pedini and fellow supporters stay firm in the stance that legalization neither normalizes nor brings the marijuana market to Virginia, because it’s already there.
Pedini further means that legalization could bring millions of dollars of tax revenue to the Commonwealth – as opposed to Walker who thinks they should find other means.
Further Implications; Social Equality
With the Virginia Governor looking to legalize recreational cannabis, the state is in for some big changes. An important driving factor behind the governor’s proposal is to promote social equity for communities most impacted by the drug war.
In relation to this contention, we invoke the opening of Hampton Roads’ first medical marijuana dispensary in Portsmouth.
Not long after the opening, comes the startling statistic showing that the average arrest rate of Black people in Virginia for marijuana possession was 3.5 times higher than the arrest rate for white people.
The bill would furthermore create a Cannabis Equity Reinvestment Board, Cannabis Equity Reinvestment Fund and Virginia Cannabis Equity Business Loan Fund. Those identified as social equity applicants are to be eligible for low- or no-interest loans on starting a new business.
Final and Further Amendments
- Beyond the main governing body, the bill will establish two new advisory boards: The Cannabis Control Advisory Board and Cannabis Public Health Advisory Council.
- The legislation contains necessities to allow smokable hemp and establish hemp testing lab licenses.
- Regulations for the marijuana market are to be broadcast by July 1, 2022. Retail cannabis sales will not start until January 1, 2023.
- In addition to voting to permit marijuana recently, the General Assembly also took steps toward abolishing the death penalty in Virginia – as a matter of interested.