RICHMOND, Va. – The Virginia Cannabis Summit happened Wednesday and leaders said they aim to create plan for cannabis laws in the Commonwealth.
Attorney General Mark Herring and the Virginia Legislative Cannabis Caucus hosted the day-long conference and brought together Virginia legislators, state agencies, regulators, and other stakeholders.
They said the hope is to create a plan of action for “badly needed reform” of Virginia’s cannabis laws.
Attorney General Herring 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.“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.”
Five panels of presentations from cannabis policy experts and legislators were included in the conference.
According to state leaders, they included:
- 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.
Herring’s announcement on the conference included statistics about arrests for marijuana possession.
Some facts from those statistics stated:
- Arrests 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.
- 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.