The ACLU of Virginia, Marijuana Justice, RISE for Youth, New Virginia Majority, and 20 other organizations sent Gov. Ralph Northam a letter on Wednesday urging him to make amendments to Senate Bill 1406 and House Bill 2312 to legalize marijuana for racial justice. "The current marijuana legislation does not reflect your promise to prioritize racial equity and justice, as it permits the over-policing and excessive punishment of people of color and young people," stated the letter. "Virginia has the incredible opportunity to be the first state in the South to legalize marijuana, but your job will not be complete if you do not legalize in a way that rights the wrongs of the disparate impact the War on Drugs has had on Black and Brown communities."
The group requested that Gov. Northam:
- Legalize possession of less than one ounce and reduce the charge for possession of one ounce to five pounds to a civil penalty, effective July 1, 2021.
The letter noted that decriminalization did not end the racial disparities in marijuana enforcement: Since July 1, 2020, more than 4,505 adults have been charged with simple marijuana possession and 142 children have been charged in Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court. Black Virginians represent 52 percent of the adult marijuana possession charges since “decriminalization,” even though Black people only account for 20 percent of the Commonwealth’s population. This penalization rate is four times higher than that of white Virginians. Delaying the prohibition on simple possession will harm Virginians every day for more than two more years – especially Black and Brown Virginians.
- Take no action that will criminalize another generation of youth.
The group urged Gov. Northam to remove the delinquency charge for juveniles found in possession, which will be used by courts as a gateway to bring too many young people — especially Black and Brown youth — under probation and surveillance.
We also ask that underage persons found in possession are evaluated for appropriate services, rather than mandated to attend a substance abuse treatment or education program when that may not address the root cause of their usage.
Finally, we ask the governor to remove the class 2 misdemeanor charge for possession on school grounds, as this is an overly punitive policy that threatens to increase Black and Brown youth’s interaction with law enforcement and feed the schoolto-prison pipeline.
"The legislation in front of you will only perpetuate the racially disparate marijuana enforcement for two-and-a-half years, and it will result in far too many Black and Brown children entering the criminal legal system," stated the letter. "Virginia cannot seriously legalize marijuana without first redressing the harms of the war on marijuana and eliminating the tools of racist policing. Please amend this legislation to be something all Virginians can be proud of."
You can read the full letter below.