I’m sure you’ve heard that pot is now legalized for personal use as of July 1, 2021. Not only does that mark the beginning of the end for race-based marijuana arrests and help curb the opioid epidemic, but it also gives us an opportunity to right a pile of historical wrongs.
Legalizing marijuana for personal use in Virginia provides an opportunity to stop criminalizing Black and Brown communities and ensure that it benefits those most targeted in the (very recent) past.
Ending the scam War on Drugs that disproportionately polices minority communities through selective enforcement is an amazing start to marijuana legalization. Huge kudos to the tremendous work of organizers and activists throughout Virginia who for years called for legalizing weed even when it wasn’t a popular idea. Now we move on to the next and arguably most crucial phase—enacting equitable legalization.
The racist enforcement by police harms communities of color in so many ways. Even after removing harsher sentences for simple possession in 2020, police arrested Black Virginians at a higher rate than white Virginians. White, Black, or brown, people in Virginia use marijuana at similar rates, but one state study found Black Virginians were 3.5 times more likely to be arrested for it. The harm done from targeted enforcement plagues people for a lifetime—eviction from public housing, ineligibility for many jobs, loss of driving privileges, deportation…the list goes on.
We need to begin to heal communities that the War on Drugs has damaged. To do that, we must center equity in all aspects of legalization in the Commonwealth. Here are a few ideas:
- Ensure that folks with criminal charges prior to legalization priority in the cannabis industry and grant them licensing preferences, as the bill is written.
- Reinvest in the communities that have been traditionally targeted by Virginia’s war on drugs.
- Do *not* pair legalization with increased police funding. We shouldn’t even need to say this.
- Remove the exception that continues to penalize youth possession despite legalization. This only perpetuates the never-ending school-to-prison pipeline that must end.
- Release the people in jail for marijuana charges prior to legalization.
We need to do more than legalizing marijuana. We need to keep the pressure on our lawmakers to center racial equity and begin to address the historic harms of the War on Drugs. When the General Assembly reconvenes in 2022, we need to hold our lawmakers accountable and make sure they #legalizeitright.