By LeeWEpstein

November 18, 2020


Virginia Governor Ralph Northam said Monday that he wants the state to legalize cannabis. He will work with lawmakers to pass a reform bill in 2021.

Ralph Northam had campaigned on simple decriminalization, a policy he enacted earlier this year.

“We will move forward with the legalization of cannabis in Virginia. I support that and I’m committed to doing it the right way,” he said at a briefing, adding that “it won’t happen overnight.

Cannabis laws were originally based on discrimination and redressing that harm means things like social equity licenses, access to capital, community reinvestment, and sealing or erasing people’s prior records, Northam said.

On the same day, a legislative commission studying the issue issued recommendations to legislators on how a legal cannabis market could be structured, including economic, social, and public health equity. Commission members drew on the experiences of other states that have already legalized, as well as existing research on the subject.

“If Virginia legalizes cannabis, the General Assembly will have to make several policy choices,” the commission said in its report

The General Assembly should determine the legal limits on the amount of cannabis an individual can possess where cannabis can be legally smoked or consumed, the legal age for cannabis use and whether individuals should be allowed to grow their plants. Legislators should also consider whether to adjust existing penalties for illegal distribution and possession beyond the legal amount. »

The group made 45 recommendations and also gave legislators 29 “policy options” related to the legalization of cannabis. They based the recommendations on interviews with over 100 stakeholders and over 200 previous studies on the issue.

Here are some of their recommendations:

  • By legalizing cannabis, the state would see an 84% reduction in cannabis-related arrests.
  • If the state legalizes and taxes cannabis sales at a rate of 25-30%, this could bring in $154-308 million in revenue per year five years after implementation.
  • The cannabis program could also create more than 11,000 jobs by the fifth year.
  • Social equity in the industry could be promoted using a variety of tactics. For example, Virginia could use some tax revenues to support reinvestment programs for communities most affected by the war on drugs. Legislators could also prevent vertical integration and provide loans to small businesses.
  • The commission said that its review of equalization studies in other states shows that more people would use cannabis, but the evidence indicates that youth use would remain the same or decrease.
  • Local jurisdictions should have “substantial authority” over how to regulate or authorize or not to authorize cannabis cultivation and processing sites.
  • The industry should be privatized, rather than controlled by the state.
  • Legislators should wait until the basic market infrastructure is in place before deciding whether to allow cannabis delivery services or consumption in dedicated venues.
  • Allowing home growing would provide a low-cost access option for consumers and, if legislators allow it, they should set a limit of 2 to 6 plants per adult.
  • The commission also felt that legislators should establish restrictions on cannabis labeling and advertising to deter youth use.
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