Marijuana legalization is a hot-button issue in Virginia politics. This conversation shouldn’t be focused on people who want to enjoy recreational marijuana. It must focus on the hundreds of Black and Brown Virginians who are suffering the lifelong consequences of the war on drugs - gaining access to stable employment and housing, or bouncing in and out of the criminal legal system, because marijuana laws have been used as a weapon against Black and Brown people for decades.

It's past time for Virginia to legalize marijuana, and we must center equity and racial justice as we move toward legalization. We created this guide with helpful and relevant resources about marijuana legalization that you may use to reach out to your senator and delegate. Join us and let your Virginia lawmakers know that this is one of the most important issues that need to be addressed during the General Assembly.

Bill information (2021)

  • SB 1406 (co-patrons: Sen. Ebbin and Sen. Lucas)
    • The governor proposes this legislation. Sen. Ebbin and Sen. Lucas are carrying it. We are analyzing the governor's proposals and will update this page with our assessment. 
  • HB 2312 (patron: Del. Herring)

How you can help

  • Email your Virginia delegate and senator
  • Key legislators:
    • Senators: Edwards, Saslaw, Deeds, Petersen, Surovell, Boysko, and Morrissey
    • Delegates: Herring, Mullin, Watts, Filler-Corn, and Heretick
  • Call your Virginia delegate and senator. You can find their contact info here: https://whosmy.virginiageneralassembly.gov/
  • Share our Lobby Guide
  • Follow us on social media to stay posted of upcoming hearings and weekly action items
  • Use the information below to help inform your call with your lawmakers.

1. Why is marijuana legalization a racial justice issue?

Q.Why is marijuana legalization a racial justice issue?
A.

Legalizing marijuana is about more than simply allowing recreational use, it's about undoing a century of racist policy that disproportionately targets Black and Brown communities.

  • Marijuana was prohibited in the early 20th century to criminalize people coming to the United States from Mexico. Texas police led the charge claiming marijuana brought across the border was the root cause of violent crimes — the kind of scare tactic too often used to justify the war on drugs, and the criminalization of Black and brown people.
  • When the government declared a “war on drugs” in 1971, police upped their enforcement of marijuana laws, targeting Black and brown communities. Today, Black Virginians are 3.4 times more likely than white Virginians to be arrested for simple marijuana possession. That number is even higher in certain corners of the commonwealth like Hanover County, where Black people are 20 times more likely to be arrested.
  • In 2019, even though “decriminalization” of marijuana was a top priority for legislators, the Virginia State Police reported that nearly 27,000 people were arrested in Virginia for possession of marijuana — most of whom are young Black people.
  • Once arrested, Black Virginians are four times more likely than white people to get convicted of a marijuana charge.
  • There are racial disparities at every level of the criminal legal system. That’s not a mistake — that’s the system working as designed.
  • Virginia’s version of “decriminalization” did nothing to address the racial disparities resulting from this country’s war on drugs. Marijuana still is illegal in Virginia. Only the penalty for simple possession has changed. 

2. What must Virginia lawmakers prioritize as they legalize marijuana?

Q.What must Virginia lawmakers prioritize as they legalize marijuana?
A.

Real reform means centering racial justice and social equity as we move toward legalization. As lawmakers debate the ins and outs of a legalization bill, there are several standards that must be met:

  • The prohibition on marijuana immediately should be repealed until the new legal system is set up. Lawmakers must remove all penalties for marijuana possession and automatically expunge conviction records for all crimes that no longer are illegal. Sentences should be reclassified for people who currently are serving time for crimes that no longer are illegal. That way, no one else will be harmed by racist marijuana law enforcement.
  • We should not create new crimes as we move toward legalization. People younger than age 18 should not be considered delinquent — and legalization should not continue to fuel the school-to-prison pipeline, leading to another generation of Black and brown kids and young adults being criminalized. Virginia lawmakers should require that youth, under the age of 18, in possession of marijuana should be treated as “Children in need of services” (CHINS) and not as juvenile delinquents. 
  • We need to ensure the people most harmed by the war on drugs have full and equitable access to the new legal markets. Businesses owned by people impacted by the criminal legal system should be able to compete and participate in the new legal markets. People with prior possession convictions should not be denied licenses to grow, package or sell marijuana.
  • We must work to repair and rebuild the communities that have been targeted by marijuana law enforcement by reinvesting tax revenues directly into Black and brown communities and the people who live there. It’s important to get specific here and not solely rely on funneling unchecked resources back into the same institutions that have failed Black and brown communities. Those who most have been impacted must have meaningful input at every level and seats at every table — on any working groups, reinvestment committees or advisory boards. Significant revenue from the new market, at a minimum of 30%, should be used to establish a community reinvestment fund or equity fund which should provide job training, education, youth development programming, expand community centers, bolster re-entry services provided by community groups.