Shawn Nowlin firstname.lastname@example.org
Much is often said about marijuana and what impact decriminalizing it could have throughout Salem and the entire Commonwealth.
Advocates of legalizing marijuana argue that doing so would boost the economy, decrease teen use, provide consumer safety, free up police resources and create thousands of potential jobs. Critics, on the other hand, adamantly believe that if marijuana is legalized, traffic accidents and deaths would rise, dependency on the drug would increase and there would be more marijuana-related medical emergencies.
Twenty-six states have reformed their laws regarding marijuana possession and usage. Until July 2020, possession of a half-ounce or less of cannabis was punishable by a $500 fine or up to 40 days in jail. While still illegal in Virginia, the maximum penalty for individuals caught with an ounce or less is now just a $25 civil fine.
All ethnicities use cannabis. Data and marijuana statistics, however, would suggest otherwise. A report conducted by the American Civil Liberties in 2019 found that African Americans are 3.6 times more likely than white Americans to be arrested for marijuana, despite the same usage rates.
Last month, the House of Representatives controlled by Democrats, passed a bill to decriminalize marijuana at the federal level. In addition to expunging low-level cannabis convictions, the MORE Act removes pot from the controlled substances list and imposes a five percent tax on legal marijuana sales. Met with derision and mockery by some congressional Republicans, the legislation was voted largely along party lines, 228 to 164.
On the state level, Del-Sally Hudsen (D) HJ 530, introduced a joint resolution earlier this year that would task the crime commission with studying alternative approaches to drug enforcement. Said Governor Northam in his 2021 State of the Commonwealth Address, “it is time to join 16 other states and make marijuana legal, and end the current system rooted in inequity. We’ve done the research, and we can do this the right way, leading with social equity, public health and public safety. Reforming our marijuana laws is one way to ensure that Virginia is a more just state that works better for everyone.”
He continued, “Marijuana has become a cash crop that rivals tobacco. But as an illegal crop, it makes no money for Virginia. By legalizing and taxing it, we can use the revenue to help communities most disproportionately impacted by the inequities in our laws.”
In recent years, there have been more arrests in the United States for marijuana annually than all violent crimes combined. According to the yearly Crime in Virginia Report, 26,470 people were arrested for marijuana in 2019. If the MORE Act is fully implemented, it will be a misdemeanor for most educational institutes and employers to ask applicants to discuss past convictions.
Roanoke County resident Jaime Edwards, in large part because of her parents, has always felt that marijuana has never been as dangerous as some suggest. “My parents never hid the truth from me. I can remember being in high school and us having fully transparent conversations at the dinner table,” she said. “Because of what I was taught, when it came time for me to choose if I would partake in marijuana or not, I was well-informed. I wish more parents would take a similar approach with their children.”