Virginia may legalize production and possession of marijuana

'If you want to help marginalized communities, here is an opportunity'

Virginia is on track to become the first Southern state to legalize marijuana, indicating how much things are changing in the state where Democrats have risen to power in recent years.

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On Friday, the state’s General Assembly voted 55-42 in favor of the move that would allow the possession, manufacture and sale of the substance. The legislation now goes to Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam, who has indicated he will sign. Once the bill is signed, regulated merchants will be able to start selling cannabis in 2024, according to HuffPost.

Read More: House votes to decriminalize marijuana at federal level

“If you want to help marginalized communities, here is an opportunity,” Del. Don Scott said at the hearing. “This is an opportunity to invest in those communities that have been decimated by the so-called war on drugs and to give us an economic leg up.”

An investigation by The Daily Press in 2018 determined that the state’s marijuana laws were unfair to Black Virginians. The review of court data found that white people charged with marijuana possession were more likely to get a second chance when compared to Black defendants, who were typically incarcerated for the same crime.

While only 20% of the state’s residents are Black, and even though surveys have repeatedly shown Black and white people use marijuana at similar rates, half of those charged in Virginia with first-offense marijuana possession were Black.

Read More: Man jailed for life over $20 marijuana sale has been freed

A state study found that the sale of marijuana in Virginia, where Democrats took full control of the state’s legislature in 2019, is expected to raise about $300 million in tax revenue. With Northam’s signature, the money raised will go toward preschool and public health programs, addiction treatment and programs to address the effects of marijuana’s criminalization.

Last month Northam’s office said the governor is also developing a plan to expunge marijuana-related offenses. 

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