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Republicans and Democrats at odds over best approach to marijuana licenses

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The House of Delegates is considering a bill from the Senate that creates new licenses to sell marijuana.

Who will get first dibs on getting a valuable license to sell marijuana? According to a bill the Senate sent to the house, it's people who have been convicted of misdemeanor marijuana crimes. Or people who live in areas that have been disproportionately policed. Or people who graduated from HBCUs.

Delegate Paul Krizek is a Democrat from Fairfax County.

"I don't think Republicans necessarily hate the idea of equity licenses. Maybe they hate the word equity," Krizek says. "I mean it seems like it's a verboten word these days. But they want to do the same thing as we want to do, and that's right the wrongs of the past.”

Republican Delegate Michael Webert of Fauquier County says he likes the idea of giving preference to economically distressed areas, which is actually in the Senate bill. He also says he also would add preference for women or minority owned businesses. But, he said, he disagrees with the idea of giving preference to people who live in areas that have been disproportionately policed.

"You don't have to go looking at Census data to find out who has been targeted the most for policing, etc., because it depends on the definition of targeting and policing, etc," Webert says. "You can have some very wealthy areas that have been hit hard by a cocaine bust."

Republicans might resist the idea of social equity licenses, but they also have an incentive to get something done this year. Many Republicans say the status quo is unacceptable because the only way for people to get this legal product is currently the black market.

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. He has reported for NPR, the New York Daily News and the Alexandria Gazette Packet. He has a master's degree in American Studies from Florida State University, and he is a former adjunct professor at Tallahassee Community College. He is the author of four books.