We Don’t Just Need to Legalize Marijuana in Virginia. We Need To Do It Equitably.

It seems like everyone is talking about legalizing marijuana this year. I’m all for it! But I’m a little nervous about how the details will work themselves out. There’s a right way and a wrong way to do this, and we need to make sure we do it the right way. 

That means making sure that while we’re legalizing, we’re focusing on equity and repairing the harms that decades of unbalanced enforcement of our drug laws has done to Black and Brown communities. Here are three things we can do to make that a reality.

  1. Expunge the Records of People Charged with Possession If we are going to legalize weed equitably, we have to automatically expunge the record of everyone who has been convicted of possession. We all know that Black and Brown people are significantly more likely than white people to be arrested and charged with possession of marijuana. That charge can follow them for life and prevent them from pursuing job opportunities and finding affordable housing. No one should have to apply, pay a fee, or go through a long process to get their record expunged. It should be an automatic part of legalizing marijuana here in Virginia. 
  2. Ensure Money for Marijuana Taxation Goes to the Community Legal marijuana will be a huge new industry, and the potential for new tax revenue is great. But we need a plan for that money, and it can’t be that it just goes into the general fund like everything else. Instead, money from marijuana taxes needs to go towards the communities that the war on drugs has harmed the most. It should go to addiction services, Black business owners, and other programs to help repair the harm that disproportionate policing on Black communities has caused. 
  3. Support Black Business Owners in Virginia

When you picture someone who is profiting off the sale of legal marijuana, what do you see? I see some white frat dudes totally psyched to make bank from their favorite hobby. But rich white men are always the ones who are getting ahead, and I’m over it. When we’re legalizing marijuana and creating a whole new industry, we need to make sure that we are paving the way for Black and Brown business owners. 

Only 4.3% of owners and stakeholders in the legal marijuana industry are people of color. That has to change if we are going to legalize weed equitably. We could do that by mandating that a certain percentage of licenses for legal pot must go to people of color and ensuring that Black and Brown business owners have access to the capital they need to get started. But however we do it, we must increase that 4% number and ensure that Black and Brown communities can get ahead. 

I’m excited about the opportunities that legalizing marijuana is going to bring to people across the Commonwealth. But we must make sure that we get the details right when we legalize and do it equitably. Call your legislators today and make sure that they pay attention to the details and centering equity in any bill that would legalize marijuana in Virginia.