RICHMOND — Governor Ralph Northam on Monday released the administration’s report on the impact of legalizing adult-use marijuana in the commonwealth of Virginia.
The report is the final product of the Virginia Marijuana Legalization Work Group, and it results from a diverse, stakeholder-driven process that involved community leaders, health care professionals, policy experts and government officials.
This months-long effort was a key part of marijuana decriminalization legislation passed by the General Assembly earlier this year, and follows Gov. Northam’s recent announcement that he intends to advance marijuana legalization in Virginia.
“We will advance new laws to make sure that our commonwealth legalizes marijuana the right way,” said Gov. Northam. “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 comprehensive report includes nearly 400 pages of meeting minutes and outlines various aspects of marijuana legalization in the commonwealth, including taxation, banking, criminal justice, licensing and regulation, and consumer safety. It also provides additional details on the five key principles that Gov. Northam wants to see in any final legalization bill:
• Social equity, racial equity, and economic equity. Marijuana prohibition historically has been based in discrimination, and criminalization laws have disproportionately harmed minority communities.
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.
• Public health. Legislation should include substance abuse prevention efforts in schools and communities.
• Protections for young people. As a pediatrician, Gov. Northam will require any legislation include protections for Virginia’s youth, including age limits, mandatory ID checks and education campaigns.
• Upholding the Virginia Indoor Clean Air Act. Legislation should be aligned with the Virginia Indoor Clean Air Act prohibiting indoor tobacco use, which Gov. Northam championed as a state senator.
• Data collection. Legislation should ensure Virginia collects appropriate and ongoing information on safety, health, and equity.
The Virginia Marijuana Work Group consulted with dozens of subject matter experts in compiling its recommendations, including organizations focused on ensuring social and racial equity, such as the Minority Cannabis Business Association, NoLef Turns and Decriminalize Virginia.
Health experts, including public health policy consultants and practicing physicians were extensively involved, and the team worked closely with government officials from states that have already legalized marijuana, such as Washington, Massachusetts and Illinois.
The Work Group was led by the Secretaries of Agriculture and Forestry, Finance, Health and Human Resources, and Public Safety and Homeland Security.
The group held a total of 15 public meetings between July and October 2020.
Governor Northam at a West Rock meeting in Covington, VA. (Photo Credit, Gavin Dressler)