Virginia Must Legalize It Right

Virginia Legislators

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Marijuana Justice

Let's make one thing clear: Marijuana legalization shouldn't be focused on people who want to enjoy recreational marijuana. It should focus on the hundreds of Black and Brown Virginians who have suffered lifelong consequences because of the nation's war on drugs.

Legalizing marijuana is about racial justice. Black Virginians are 3.4 times more likely than white Virginians to be arrested for simple marijuana possession. Once arrested, Black Virginians are four times more likely than white people to get convicted of a marijuana charge. There are racial disparities at every level of the criminal legal system. That's not a mistake – that's the system working as designed.

Marijuana prohibition is at the source of the injustices communities of color suffer. Legalization alone is not enough. We must center on equity and racial justice as lawmakers debate the ins and outs of any marijuana legalization bill.

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Petition by
Chelsea Higgs Wise
Richmond, Virginia

To: Virginia Legislators
From: [Your Name]

In 2020, Virginia took the leap to "decriminalize" marijuana. Now, the time has come to legalize the drug. It's important to me that you, as my elected official, center equity, and racial justice as you and your colleagues debate the ins and outs of any marijuana legalization bill. It's critical that you put the people most impacted first, not last, in your conversation about legalization.

Legalization is not only about raising revenues from those who want to use marijuana recreationally. It is also about repairing decades of harm done to Black and Brown communities who are living with the consequences of the war on drugs.

Research has shown that even in states that decriminalized or legalized marijuana, racial disparities persist and show up at every level of the criminal legal system, from policing to sentencing.​ In states like Maine and Vermont, where marijuana is legal, the racial disparities in drug arrests actually increased between 2010 and 2018, according to the ACLU data.

Marijuana is still illegal in Virginia, only the penalty has changed. Your effort to "decriminalize" marijuana last session did little to address racial disparities in arrest. ​

Marijuana Justice and the ACLU Virginia have laid out several standards that must be met (https://acluva.org/en/news/virginia-should-legalize-marijuana) as you work out the details for legalization. Simply put, the recommendations can be summed up below:

• Repeal prohibition of simple possession
• No new crimes
• Do not criminalize our youth
• Automatically expunge past records & reclassify sentences
• Repair the harm of racist marijuana enforcement by reinvesting revenues
• Ensure people most harmed by the war on drugs have full and equitable access to the new legal markets.

Virginia has a real opportunity to do marijuana legalization right. I urge you to stand up for Virginians who were targeted by marijuana enforcement and commit to investing in our collective future by legalizing it right.