In a show of solidarity with Chelsea Higgs Wise and her advocacy group Marijuana Justice, a host of Virginia civil rights groups skipped Gov. Ralph Northam’s (D) adult-use cannabis bill signing ceremony on Wednesday, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reports.
The action was taken by the ACLU of Virginia, Justice Forward Virginia, and RISE for Youth in response to Higgs Wise’s group — which was a key influencer in the effort to pass the historic legislation — not being invited to the event.
“From the beginning, Marijuana Justice has been instrumental in expanding our coalition’s ability to center the voices of directly impacted people in the policymaking process. One of our key values is to create an inclusive space around marijuana legalization, where many communities have a seat at the table. In defense of that principle, none of us attended the signing.” — Statement by Virginia ACLU and RISE for Youth, via the Richmond Times-Dispatch
In an interview, Higgs Wise told the Dispatch that Marijuana Justice had advocated for a study into legalization by the Joint Legislative and Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission. The administration met with Marijuana Justice while the bill was being drafted and included some of the group’s suggestions; additionally, the governor’s office cited data presented by Marijuana Justice showing that, even through cannabis decriminalization, Black Virginians were continuing to be drawn into the criminal justice system over simple possession.
“I just would have been excited to be part of the event because we worked really hard,” Higgs Wise said of the snub.
“We are worried about a continued fight to be involved in the legalization process and the creation of the new market,” she told the Dispatch.
Alena Yarmosky, a spokesperson for the governor, said, “So much work went into this bill. Unfortunately we weren’t able to include many of the people we would have liked to be there — including multiple activists and legislators. We hope folks were able to participate virtually via livestream, as we’ve been doing throughout this pandemic.”
Virginia was the first state in the South to pass adult-use cannabis legalization. The new rules take effect this July, with a regulated marketplace expected by 2023.
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