Critic warns of pitfalls resulting from push to create commercial marijuana market

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Decriminalization and expunging the records of those convicted of marijuana possession should be the end point of the legalization conversation, not the beginning.

This from Dr. Kevin Sabet, president and co-founder of Smart Approaches to Marijuana, who said today that it is “unacceptable” that the legalization push appears to be more about the launch of a commercial marijuana market in the Commonwealth.

Gov. Ralph Northam and Attorney General Mark Herring announced today their support for upcoming legislative efforts to legalize marijuana.

Their announcements come on the heels of the release of a report from the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission that found, among other things, that a legalized marijuana industry could generate $300 million in tax revenues annually and support more than 11,000 jobs in the Commonwealth.

“Commercialization results in the creation of an addiction-for-profit industry that markets extremely potent marijuana products, such as candies, gummies, sodas, and flavored vapes to young people and overwhelmingly targets communities of color and low income as profit centers. What’s more, the industry’s grand promises of social equity have routinely gone up in smoke. Virginia lawmakers must instead focus on investing heavily in prevention, treatment, other manners of education on the harms of substance abuse,” Sabet said.

The governor indicated today that he wants the enabling legislation to include substance abuse prevention efforts in schools and communities, and protections for Virginia youths including age limits, mandatory ID checks, and education campaigns.

“It’s time to legalize marijuana in Virginia,” said Northam, who signed legislation earlier this year that decriminalized simple marijuana possession in Virginia. “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. I look forward to working with the General Assembly to get this right.”

Sabet will be working with a similar focus.

“We look forward to working diligently over the coming months to educate lawmakers in Richmond as to the pitfalls of commercialization, including the fact that marijuana revenues routinely fail to meet expectations and, on average, account for less than 1 percent of state budgets,” Sabet said.

Story by Chris Graham


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