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Northam, Herring announce support for legalizing adult-use marijuana in Virginia

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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.

The report also found that blacks are three and a half times more likely to be arrested for marijuana offenses than whites.

“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.”

“This JLARC report just confirms what I have long been saying – Virginia needs to allow legal, regulated adult use of marijuana as a matter of public safety, justice, equity, and economic opportunity,” Herring said. “For too long, the Commonwealth’s approach to cannabis was needlessly and disproportionately saddling black Virginians and people of color with convictions and this report shows just how important legalizing marijuana is for promoting equity in Virginia.”

Northam wants the legislation being crafted to legalize adult-use marijuana to 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.

According to the JLARC report, expunging past marijuana convictions would benefit at least 120,000 Virginians, and at least half of those would be black Virginians and people of color.

The governor also 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.

Story by Chris Graham