The ACLU of Virginia, Justice Forward Virginia, Marijuana Justice, and RISE for Youth continue to stand by our full letter to the administration and all legislators that included the repealing of the prohibition of simple possession starting on July 1, 2021 and meeting Governor Northam’s stated priority of racial equity and justice.
With only hours left on the legislative clock and behind closed doors, the Virginia General Assembly agreed on a marijuana legalization compromise that, from the perspective of racial justice, is worse than the status quo. The bill creates new crimes that include permitting searches for having marijuana in a vehicle and possession under the age of 21. The bill also adds new pretexts like “transportation” and offering or consuming marijuana in a public place, all of which will be enforced disproportionately against Black Virginians.
Moreover, the bill is at most an aspirational policy statement; the legislation includes a reenactment clause, requiring virtually every aspect of the bill to be voted on again in 2022. The vote this year doesn’t matter. What matters is the message the legislature is sending, and to the criminal justice reform advocacy community and others fighting for racial justice, that message is clear: “We do not care about social and racial equity.”
This bill does not advance the cause of equal justice or racial justice in Virginia. It is the product of a closed-door legislative process that has prioritized the interests of recreational marijuana smokers over people and communities of color. The bill is a failure and we urge lawmakers to vote against it.