Virginia is on track to be the next state to legalize cannabis.
One year ago, in December, Attorney General Mark Herring hosted a cannabis summit, during which he asked, “It is clear to me that it is time for a new, smarter approach to cannabis in Virginia. And the question that we’re here to answer today is: what does that look like?” That question culminated in legislation to decriminalize cannabis and to study legalized sales, which Governor Ralph Northam signed into law this July. Then, last month, Northam called on lawmakers to legalize cannabis in 2021, as his task force unveiled its recommendations for legalization.
(Catch up on Cannabis Wire’s coverage of the road to legalization in Virginia.)
On Wednesday, Northam took the next step and included legalization in his new budget bill, which, he said, “lays the groundwork to legalize marijuana in the Commonwealth.”
“We know that laws to ban marijuana historically were based in discrimination, and criminalization laws have disproportionately harmed minority communities. Virginia has studied the experience of other states—including taxation, banking, criminal justice, licensing, and regulation. Our path forward will lead with social equity, public health, and public safety. This session is the time to get this done,” Northam continued.
The governor went on to describe how tax revenue from legal cannabis could help to provide “equitable access to opportunity,” including access to pre-kindergarten. And he noted that $20 million is earmarked for expungements in the budget “so it will be ready when we conclude the important discussion of how best to conduct expungements. Like marijuana legalization, this is a priority that needs action in this session.”
Specifically, the bill includes “$5,000,000 in the first year and 20,000,000 in the second year from the general fund to support legislation related to expungements of criminal records, including but not limited to automatic expungement of misdemeanor marijuana records.”
On full legalization, the bill provides for the Secretary of Finance to “authorize an interest-free treasury loan for the Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control Authority to fund start-up costs associated with the legalization and governance of adult use marijuana products as enacted by the 2021 General Assembly of Virginia.”
Already, Virginia appears to have inspired neighboring states. As Cannabis Wire has recently reported, South Carolina lawmakers have pre-filed several cannabis bills, including to legalize medical cannabis and to ask voters about adult use legalization. And in North Carolina, a task force appointed by Governor Roy Cooper has recommended decriminalization and a study of legalized sales.