Following Gov. Ralph Northam’s announcement that he supports legalizing adult-use cannabis, Virginians are beginning to look at what to do with the expected budgetary windfall and social equity concerns are at the top of many Virginian’s minds.
The governor’s announcement came after the Joint Legislative Audit & Review Commission (JLARC) found that legalizing cannabis in Virginia could bring up to three-hundred million of tax revenue by the fifth year of sales. In addition, the report found that between 2010 and 2019, Black Virginians — at a rate of 6.3 per 1,000— were 3.5 times more likely to get arrested for cannabis possession than white Virginians. Such statistics also carry over to other cannabis crimes like distribution.
The JLARC report says social equity in Virginia should include community reinvestment, business assistance programs and foster entrepreneurship and job training in the cannabis industry. However, some Virginians want social equity to go further than what the report offers.
Lee J. Carter, a self-described “socialist” Virginia Delegate and prospective candidate for governor, told WRIC why the state’s social equity efforts are essential.
“Throughout history, there has always been a class of people, largely defined by race, put in an economic disadvantage. If we want an equal society, we have to act to bring those people where they would have been if those disadvantages didn’t exist.” — Carter, via WRIC
Del. Carter prefers an overarching reparations plan as opposed to plans that only focus on one aspect of social equity, such as education or job training. “This isn’t just a single thing, so the solution can’t be,” he told WRIC.
Chelsea Higgs Wise, executive director of Marijuana Justice and someone whose family has suffered under cannabis prohibition in Virginia, has similar views. “Our platform is really to be a line of defense between Black communities as we legalize marijuana,” Wise told The Washington Post. “I’ve been a child watching my family just having to struggle with housing, employment. My siblings and I are first-generation college students trying to do better for our own legacy and family legacy.
“It looks like legalization is more on the minds of people but I will tell you that folks are looking at marijuana legalization as a way to fill gaps within our budget rather than really working to divert the revenue of cannabis that will be coming back into the communities that truly deserve it,” she said.