Virginia Plots a Course for Cannabis Legalization

Virginia’s attorney general held a cannabis summit with talks of recreational marijuana legalization and decriminalization.

A cannabis summit and several new cannabis reform bills indicate that Virginia could be on track to legalize recreational use marijuana in 2020. On Dec. 11, the Commonwealth of Virginia’s attorney general hosted a summit with guest speakers from outside states who have already legalized and decriminalized marijuana.

Mark Herring, Virginia’s AG, tweeted about his plans to bring cannabis policy reform to Virginia.

“Today we’re bringing together legislators, stakeholders, and policy experts to plot a course for a smarter, fairer, more just cannabis policy in VA. For me, that means decriminalizing now, resolving past convictions, & moving to legal, regulated adult use,” Herring posted.

The event featured panelists from Colorado and Illinois, two states that have successfully passed progressive cannabis reform policy. This year, Illinois became the first state to legalize adult use marijuana through its state legislature and is on track to become the second largest cannabis market behind California.

During the opening statements at the summit, Herring remarked that he did not believe the current policies criminalizing cannabis were working for Virginia.

“It is needlessly creating criminals and burdening Virginians with convictions. The human and social costs are enormous, in addition to the millions of dollars it costs Virginia taxpayers. And the negative consequences of the current approach fall disproportionately on African Americans and people of color. It’s clear to me that the time for cannabis reform has come. Justice demands it. Virginians are demanding it. And I’m going to help make sure we get this right,” Herring stated in a press release.

Herring backed up his stance by shedding light on cannabis convictions and how it impacts the commonwealth. According to the numbers released, each year the cost of cannabis criminal enforcement in Virginia is estimated to exceed $81 million.

Arrests for cannabis possession in Virginia have more than tripled from around 9,000 in 1999 to nearly 29,000 in 2018. First-time cannabis convictions in Virginia have risen 53 percent, from 2008 to 2017. While African Americans make up just 20 percent of Virginia’s population, nearly 50 percent of all first-offense possession arrests from 2007 to 2016 were African American residents.

In June, Herring called for decriminalization of cannabis and a move towards legal adult-use cannabis. While Herring’s support for cannabis policy reform is clear, Virginia’s Gov. Ralph Northam has not voiced support for adult-use cannabis legalization.

Along with criminal reform, public health, social equity, and law enforcement, hemp was also a topic at the summit. In October, Virginia opened its first industrial hemp processing facility. Gov. Northam voiced support for boosting the hemp industry, which is slated to become one of the fastest growing sectors of agriculture in Virginia.

Virginia’s 2020 Cannabis Legislation

In a new Democratic-majority General Assembly, two cannabis reform bills are likely to be considered in Virginia next year. One would decriminalize small amounts of cannabis, changing the penalty from a misdemeanor to a civil penalty. The other would legalize adult-use marijuana.

Another bill was filed the night before the summit that would legalize cannabis and develop a regulatory framework for cultivation. For more information on cannabis laws in Virginia, visit our Virginia Marijuana Laws page.

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