In a letter to the Virginia State Crime Commission, which is studying the topic of decriminalizing simple cannabis possession in the state, Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam, a Democrat, called the state’s cannabis sentencing and enforcement laws “costly and disproportionately harmful to communities of color,” WRIC reports.
In his letter, Northam pointed out that Virginia spends $67 million annually on cannabis enforcement which could be better used to create 13,000 pre-k openings, and that African Americans are about three times more likely to be arrested for simple possession, which could lead to jail and “begin a dangerous cycle of recidivism.”
The letter was sent following a call for public comments on the topic by the commission, which is open until Aug. 25.
A June poll conducted by the Virginia Commonwealth University’s L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs Center for Public Policy found 62 percent of Virginians “strongly” or “somewhat” agreed that adult cannabis use should be legalized, while 80 percent favored reducing simple possession penalties from a misdemeanor to a $100 fine.
In March, Gov. Terry McAuliffe signed cannabis reform legislation allowing pharmacies to produce and sell cannabis oil extracts for epilepsy treatments and eliminating the state statute permitting the suspension of driver’s licenses of adults convicted of cannabis possession.
The commission will present its findings on Oct. 5.
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