PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam is moving forward with plans that would make Virginia the first state in the South to legalize the recreational use of marijuana for adults.
During the governor’s coronavirus briefing Wednesday, Northam told reporters as part of the legalization proposed legislation, he would look into expunging criminal records associated with certain marijuana-related convictions.
Northam says legalizing adult recreational use is the right thing to do for equity, public health, and public safety.
Virginia NORML is working closely with the state in developing a new legislative model for the legalization of marijuana. It would be proposed during next year’s legislative session. The process could take up to two years.
‘When NORML started in 1970, only 12% of the American public supported ending marijuana prohibition. Here we are five decades later and the vast majority of Americans, like Virginians, support legalizing and regulating responsible use by adults,” said Jenn Michelle Pedini, executive director of Virginia NORML.
In a recent WAVY-TV 10 poll, 84% of respondents support the governor’s plan.
Northam wants Virginia to join 15 other states and the District of Columbia that have said “yes” to some form of recreational cannabis and On Election Day 2020, marijuana was the winner in four states.
Last year, the General Assembly decriminalized possession of small amounts of marijuana; NORML officials say this alone will cut marijuana arrests in half.
“Despite equal usage rates, and Black Virginians only making up 20% of the population, they are arrested three and a half times [more] than their white counterparts for marijuana,” said Pedini.
While marijuana convictions have left minorities locked up, now there’s a concern that with legalization, minorities will be locked out of business opportunities. Dr. Eric Claville is the director of the Center for African American Public Policy at Norfolk State University. He encourages lawmakers to build in systems that will require the use of minority-owned businesses in Virginia’s legal marijuana industry.
“As it relates to the licensing the selling and the cultivation of marijuana, African Americans and persons of color are pretty much shut out of that process. There has to be attached to this legislation an opportunity for African Americans and other people of color to benefit from this opportunity if it goes into legislation,” said Claville.
Medical marijuana dispensaries that sell oil-based products are opening across Virginia, including one in Portsmouth. Columbia Care, in the 4000 Block of Seaboard Ct., remains on schedule to open before the end of the year, according to pharmacist Ray Hernandez.