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Marijuana Advocates Believe Northam has Heard Their Message to Speed Up Legalization


Governor Ralph Northam is expected to announce his amendments to the marijuana bill on Monday.

And he's expected to move for legalization this year as opposed to waiting until 2024.

When Governor Ralph Northam sent lawmakers his version of marijuana legalization in January, it had an effective date of 2024 to build in time to stand up the new industry and regulate it. Now advocates are feeling hopeful they've been successful in persuading him to move up the timeline.

Ashna Khanna at the ACLU says Virginia can't wait until 2024.  "Even with decriminalization, we are seeing the racial disparities continue to exist. And so delaying this prohibition and waiting until 2024 will harm Virginians every day and especially Black and brown Virginians."

Chelsea Higgs Wise at Marijuana Justice says the governor has been hearing that message from advocates.  "We don't deserve the policing at all, even if it's just a ticket or even if it's a small fine. Right now, Virginians are being evicted for about $50 or less here in Richmond. So a $25 fine can absolutely change someone's world especially in a pandemic."

Lawmakers and advocates say they're expecting the governor to move forward with full legalization for less than an ounce of marijuana on July 1 of this year. The governor's amendment is not the end of the story. Lawmakers would still have to approve it when they meet in April.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.

Michael Pope is an author and journalist who lives in Old Town Alexandria.
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