Recreational marijuana is now legal in Virginia — making it the 16th state in the nation and the first southern state to do so.

A report of the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission issued in Nov. 2020 found that Black Virginians were more than three times as likely to be arrested for simple possession of marijuana.

Data from Virginia courts show that trend has continued since the simple possession of marijuana was decriminalized on July 1, 2020 — punishable with a $25 civil fine.

Gov. Ralph Northam said this fact drove his proposal to advance legalization by three years, and that he remains committed to working with legislators and advocates to repair past harm.

“We made history as the first state in the south to legalize the simple possession of marijuana. I am pleased that the General Assembly accepted my proposal to make this change on July 1, 2021, nearly three years earlier than planned,” Northam said on April 7.

“Marijuana laws were explicitly designed to target communities of color, and Black Virginians are disproportionately likely to be stopped, charged, and convicted. Today, Virginia took a critical step to right these wrongs and restore justice to those harmed by decades of over-criminalization.”

The law now also allows for home cultivation of marijuana of up to four plants per household. The amendment requires plants be labeled with identification information, out of sight from public view, and out of range of individuals under the age of 21.

Virginia follows states like New York who’ve legalized recreational marijuana in early April for reasons similar to the commonwealth: over-policing and targeting of communities of color, who make up the majority of possession of marijuana cases.

The National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA) says nearly 60,000 people — the majority of whom are people of color — are arrested for marijuana violations in New York every year, the effects of which can permanently damage their ability to obtain employment, housing, and education, among other collateral consequences.

“We commend Empire State lawmakers for aligning state law with the will of the vast majority of voters who support legal and regulated cannabis markets as an alternative to failed prohibition,” said Aaron Smith, co-founder and chief executive officer of the NCIA.

“We are rapidly approaching a point where a majority of Americans will be living in states that have passed laws to regulate cannabis for adults, and we’re counting on Congress and the White House to finally harmonize federal law with these successful state programs.”

The latest annual Gallup poll from Nov. 2020 tracking support of marijuana legalization showed a record level of national support for legalization.

The poll, which Gallup has conducted every year since 1969, shows 68% of Americans are in favor of legalization.

In the last election voters in New Jersey approved a legalization measure and states like Connecticut, Delaware, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island have prioritized comprehensive cannabis policy says NCIA.

“It should come as no surprise that support for making cannabis legal continues to climb as more states regulate the substance and voters are able to see the benefits of legal cannabis markets,” said Smith. “When more than two-thirds of Americans support legalization and now more than one-third live in legal states, we are quickly approaching a tipping point for cannabis policy. Federal lawmakers need to listen to their constituents and support sensible comprehensive reforms now.”

Sarafina Wright –Washington Informer Staff Writer

Sarafina Wright is a staff writer at the Washington Informer where she covers business, community events, education, health and politics. She also serves as the editor-in-chief of the WI Bridge, the Informer’s...

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