Lawmakers last year decriminalized marijuana, making simple possession a civil penalty that can be punished by a fine of no more than $25.
House Majority Leader Charniele Herring said that while the legislation isn’t perfect, it was a “justice bill.”
“This moves us in a … direction to strike down and to address those institutional barriers, and over-policing, over-arrests, over-convictions of African Americans who do not use marijuana at a higher rate than our white counterparts, but we seem to get the brunt of criminal convictions,” Herring said.
A recent study by the legislature’s research and watchdog agency found that from 2010-2019, the average arrest rate of Black individuals for marijuana possession was 3.5 times higher than the arrest rate for whites. The study also found that Black people were convicted at a rate 3.9 times higher than whites.
The bill calls for dedicating 30% of marijuana tax revenue — after program costs — to a Cannabis Equity Reinvestment Fund. The money would be used to help communities that have been historically over-policed for marijuana crimes, with funds going toward scholarships, workforce development and job placement services, and low- or no-interest loans for qualified cannabis businesses.
Virginians who have a marijuana-related conviction, have family members with a conviction, or live in an area that is economically distressed could qualify as social equity applicants who would get preference for licenses to get into the marijuana marketplace as cultivators, wholesalers, processors and retailers.