RICHMOND (December 11, 2019)– Today Attorney General Mark R. Herring and the Virginia Legislative Cannabis Caucus are hosting the “Virginia Cannabis Summit,” a day-long conference to bring together Virginia legislators, state agencies, regulators, and other stakeholders to create a plan of action for badly needed reform of Virginia’s cannabis laws. Attorney General Herring has called
for immediate decriminalization of possession of small amounts of marijuana, action to address past convictions, and a move towards legal and regulated adult use.
“I don’t believe that Virginia’s current approach of criminalizing cannabis is working,” Attorney General Herring said in opening remarks kicking off the summit. “It is needlessly creating criminals and burdening Virginians with convictions. The human and social costs are enormous, in addition to the millions of dollars it costs Virginia taxpayers. And the negative consequences of the current approach fall disproportionately on African Americans and people of color. It’s clear to me that the time for cannabis reform has come. Justice demands it. Virginians are demanding it. And I’m going to help make sure we get this right.”
Today’s summit includes five panels or presentations from cannabis policy experts and legislators, attorney general staff, and law enforcement officials in states that have decriminalized or legalized regulated adult use:
- Overview of State Cannabis Policy Efforts. Panelists from states that have implemented legal regulated adult use will discuss their experiences from policy development to implementation.
- Social Equity and the Legalization Landscape. A discussion on different modes of equity- local vs. state jurisdictional oversight, equity as it relates to consumption space, licensing, or excise tax distribution.
- Overview of Public Health and the Future of the Cannabis Industry.
- A Discussion About the Hemp Supply Chain. Panelists will discuss the federal perspective, market and consumer views, and certification and standardization in other states.
- Law Enforcement and the New Landscape of Regulated Adult Use of Marijuana. A discussion about drug law and the changing environment for law enforcement
“Following several years of forming consensus around medical cannabis products, we have to be ready to take action in the upcoming legislative session to further reform our laws in this arena,” said Sen. Dave Marsden (37th District—Fairfax). “This effort will include a more robust medical cannabis program and Attorney General Herring’s summit is a big step in ensuring we are knowledgeable on the issue and prepared to do this right. There are better, smarter ways to handle cannabis policy. Virginia is ready for evidence-based reform and that is what we will provide.”
“This summit is a great opportunity for me and my fellow legislators to learn from the experiences of other states as we consider how to create more fair, just, equitable, and effective cannabis laws here in Virginia,” said Del. Stephen Heretick (79th District—Norfolk/Portsmouth. “I really appreciate Attorney General Herring’s foresight in bringing us all together, and his commitment to cannabis reform.”
“It’s time for public policy to catch up with public opinion, and NORML applauds Attorney General Herring for his efforts to foster and advance evidence-based cannabis laws,” said Jenn Michelle Pedini, Executive Director, Virginia NORML. “We look forward to supporting the attorney general and the Virginia Cannabis Caucus in their work reforming marijuana laws for a safer Commonwealth.”
Arrests for marijuana possession in Virginia have more than tripled from around 9,000 in 1999 to nearly 29,000 in 2018. In the last decade the number of first time marijuana convictions in Virginia has risen 53%, from 6,533 in 2008 to 10,000 in 2017.
The Virginia Crime Commission found that African Americans comprised about half of all first offense possession arrests from 2007 to 2016, despite comprising just 20% of Virginia’s population and despite studies consistently showing that marijuana usage rates are comparable between African Americans and white Americans.
The cost of marijuana criminal enforcement in Virginia is estimated to exceed $81 million each year.