Gov. Ralph Northam announced a plan on Monday to work towards marijuana legalization in Virginia, NPR reports. Northam expressed support for decriminalization during his 2017 campaign for governor, but has not supported full legalization until now.
“We are going to move forward with legalizing marijuana in Virginia,” Northam said. “I support this, and I’m committed to doing it the right way.”
If Virginia legalizes cannabis for adult use, it would join 15 other states in doing so. It would also become the first state in the South to legalize recreational cannabis. Medical cannabis is legal in Virginia.
Though Northam claims to have never used marijuana himself, he said he believes cannabis can provide health benefits to some groups like children with epilepsy (Northam is a pediatric neurologist). He also cited studies that show people of color are more than three times as likely to be arrested and convicted for marijuana-related charges, even though they use cannabis at similar rates as white people.
The Virginia legislature decriminalized marijuana possession earlier this year. A first-time offense now comes with a $25 fine, instead of the previous $500 fine and 30-day jail stay. That legislation also called for a full study of legalization by Northam staffers. The study hasn’t yet been released.
A separate study commissioned by the state on the impact of marijuana legalization was released this week. It found commercial cannabis could produce up to $62 million in tax revenue during the first full year of sales. By the fifth year, tax revenue could jump to $308 million. A legal cannabis market could also create more than 18,000 jobs in Virginia.
A regulatory system for legal recreational marijuana could take 18 to 24 months to set up. Northam plans to introduce legislation when the General Assembly convenes for its regular session in January.
As Urban Aroma readers know, medical and recreational cannabis is already legal across the border from Virginia in DC, though Congress has blocked the District from setting up a tax-and-regulate system.