A working group assembled to study the possible impact of legalizing cannabis in the state of Virginia just released their findings, said WTVR. The report includes the group’s recommendations should the state legalizes the plant.
The Virginia Marijuana Legalization Work Group is composed of healthcare professionals, community leaders, policy experts, and members of Governor Ralph Northam’s administration. According to Marijuana Moment, the panel includes the state attorney general, State Police captain, agency commissioners, VA NORML head, and other advocates.
It was formed earlier this year at the request of legislators as part of the deliberation regarding the legalization of cannabis. This came as a condition after the passing of the decriminalization laws approved by the General Assembly.
Moreover, the report was released around two weeks after Northam stated that he would push for the legalization of recreational marijuana in the state. According to Northam, “We will advance new laws to make sure that our Commonwealth legalizes marijuana the right way. Virginia has studied the experience of other states and this report lays out a path forward that leads with social equity, public health, and public safety.”
The working group’s report covers the potential effects of cannabis legalization in various aspects of society such as taxation, banking, licensing and regulation, consumer safety, and criminal justice. It also provided 20 suggestions including those regarding Northam’s five priority areas.
Social, racial, and economic equity was highlighted in the report. The laws prohibiting cannabis is founded on discrimination, which is why the implementation of criminalization laws have disproportionately affected minority communities.
According to WTVR, “Legislation should focus on undoing these harms by including initiatives such as social equity license programs, access to capital community reinvestment, and sealing or expunging records of past marijuana-related convictions.”
As per Northam’s five key principles, the report also covers public health, especially with regards to substance abuse prevention initiatives in education institutions and communities. Moreover, it provides recommendations for protections for young people, legislation in line with the Virginia Indoor Clean Air Act, and data collection.
Outside of Northam’s five priority areas, the group also suggestion to create a single agency that would regulate the state’s marijuana program. Along with regulation, taxation will also be imminent in order to generate revenue. However, the group noted that tax rates should not be too high to prevent people from remaining in the black market.
The report recommended that legislation should be passed to address the underbanking of the cannabis industry. According to the group, businesses should be given access to banking services such as state-chartered financial institutions.
Ultimately, the panel stated, “The purpose of this report is not to recommend to either the Governor or the General Assembly whether or not the Commonwealth should take legislative action to legalize marijuana. Rather, this report seeks to outline important areas of consideration should Virginia pass legislation legalizing the substance.”
Regarding the possibility of legalization, some Virginia legislators are optimistic that such laws could have enough support in 2021. WTVR noted that if Virginia legalized the plant, it would be the first Southern state to do so.
What Legalization Would Mean to Virginians
Before anything else, it is important to note that Virginia’s first medical marijuana dispensary has been operating since October, which means that Virginian patients qualified for an MMJ card can access the plant for medicinal uses.
The progress that the state has been doing is seen as a positive development for minority communities. Virginia residents who belong to these communities, especially those who are Black and Latino have been disproportionately affected by the discriminatory implementation of laws. Various studies have shown that members of these communities are more likely to be arrested for possession.
A VA Dogwood article cited Attorney General Herring saying that the still will be “a more fair, just and equal place,” with decriminalization of marijuana in small amounts. Moreover, Jenn Michelle Pedini, the executive director of VA NORML, said, “Decriminalization is a victory worth celebrating, but as we have said repeatedly, it is not a public policy solution for marijuana prohibition.” These statements were given back in May when the decriminalization law was passed.
With the prospective full legalization of the plant, especially with some lawmakers being optimistic about its development in 2021, Virginians could see a more socially equitable set of marijuana-related laws.
An opinion piece by Terry McAuliffe and Don Scott posted on the Washington Post said that the state cannot have full marijuana legalization without equity. According to the article, “If we are going to create and sustain meaningful change, we need to act big and be bold. We can’t tinker around the edges and act as though we are being transformative. One way to do this is to finally fully legalize marijuana and recognize it for what it is: a civil rights issue.”
This is referring to the “failed war on drugs,” which has affected communities of color, as mentioned above.
The opinion piece also noted other similar suggestions as to the working group’s report. According to the writers, equitable access to the industry, especially in licensing and employment, should be established. It also advocated for the expungement of prior convictions.
The generation of revenue was also highlighted in the Washington Post article, where the writers said that taxation is the key to earning revenues from the industry. Moreover, the hundreds of millions of dollars that would be earned through cannabis must be invested back into communities that have been disproportionately affected by the criminalization of marijuana. It should be used to address the inequities they endured in terms of civil justice and education.
McAuliffe was the governor of the state from 2014 to 2018, while Scott is the Portsmouth representative in the House of Delegates.
The Bottom Line
The potential to legalize cannabis is considered an obvious move by McAuliffe and Scott. However, in order to fully benefit from marijuana law reforms, addressing real criminal justice issues is a must. The recommendations by the working group can be a valuable guide for future reforms and new legislation.