Black Virginia lawmakers push to legalize marijuana in special session this summer

A new law decriminalizing marijuana possession in Virginia will take effect next week, and the state caucus black caucus is already pressuring colleagues to go further by fully legalizing cannabis in an upcoming special session this summer.

“The Commonwealth has passed the police and law enforcement study point: Immediate steps must be taken to eliminate abuse of law enforcement, prevent and punish racist behavior, eliminate institutional discrimination and increase accountability at all levels of law enforcement. ” The Legislative Black Caucus (VLBC) said on a list of priorities it released on Wednesday. “The country and the Commonwealth are on the threshold of substantial and necessary social and political change. As leaders, the next steps are to ensure that there is a bold shift toward greater racial and social justice and change across Virginia. “

In addition to pledging to introduce legislation to legalize marijuana in the upcoming session in August, the 23-member group also plans to introduce bills to implement automatic removal, ban no-touch orders, require the courts to publish racial data on people. accused of low-level crimes and enact other radical criminal justice reforms.

“And the work does not end here. In the coming weeks, VLBC members will host events to engage community members to receive comments and suggestions on the pre-Special Session agenda, ”the group said. “The committee will continue to work with the community to ensure that people’s voices are heard, will continue to incorporate community input, and will continue to work with the community to achieve these goals. The evolving list is understood by the VLBC as part of the work necessary to ensure that black lives really matter in our Community. “

The state is already conducting two studies on the broader legalization of marijuana, one due to a provision in the decriminalization bill that lawmakers approved this session and another as a result of a separate resolution that was enacted, with the results of both before the end of the law. year.

But that doesn’t stop the black committee and other lawmakers from pressing to end the ban earlier.

The main sponsor of the decriminalization, Senator Adam Ebbin (D), who is not part of the black group, said earlier this month that he also wants the community to take the next step to legalize cannabis during the special session.

“It is time to act to reform Virginia’s police practices and continue the crucial work of deconstructing systemic racism,” he said. “We cannot wait until January to pass significant reforms.”

Governor Ralph Northam (D), who campaigned and signed the decriminalization in the law, has yet to endorse a broader legalization.

“Governor Northam is proud to support the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus in its push for systemic criminal justice and police reform, and looks forward to reviewing specific legislation,” a governor spokesman told the Richmond Times-Dispatch in response to the new list of proposals.

Earlier this month, Northam presented the recently enacted modest cannabis reform as an example of how the state is addressing racial injustices that are fueling mass protests of police violence against American blacks.

“Eliminating marijuana as a law enforcement tool – a tool that disproportionately impacts Virginia blacks – is an immediate step that the Virginia legislature can and should take,” said Jenn Michelle Pedini, NORML’s director of development who is also serving as executive director of state affiliate Virginia NORML. Marijuana moment. “Virginia legislatures, municipalities, organizations and elected officials alike should follow the VLBC example and immediately request the legalization and regulation of responsible possession and use of cannabis by adults.”

State Attorney General Mark Herring (D), who is running to replace the limited-term governor in 2021, has endorsed the legalization of cannabis and hosted a summit last year to build support for the policy change.

It remains to be seen whether legislative leaders will accept the black caucus’ push to legalize marijuana in August or whether the idea will have to wait until the results of state studies are ready.

For now, starting July 1, possessing up to one ounce of cannabis will be punished with a $ 25 fine without threat of imprisonment and no criminal record.

Georgia lawmakers include decriminalization of marijuana in police reform bill

Marijuana Moment is possible thanks to the support of the readers. If you trust our cannabis advocacy journalism to stay informed, consider a monthly Patreon pledge.