Northam Proposes Legal Marijuana in Va Within Two Years

by DJ Rippert

Ralph Reefer. On Wednesday the Northam Administration unveiled legislation to legalize recreational use of marijuana in Virginia. The legislation will be introduced by House Majority Leader Charniele Herring, D-Alexandria, and Senate President Pro Tempore Louise Lucas, D-Portsmouth. Sen. Adam Ebbin, D-Alexandria, and Del. Don Scott Jr., D-Portsmouth. Northam took up the cause of legalizing marijuana last November citing both racial equity and financial issues. Sale of legal marijuana would start by Jan 1, 2023, under the Northam plan.

Don’t bogart the credit. Northam’s plan is partially the result of studies conducted by two government organizations which examined the matter at the request of the General Assembly. The studies called for significant data collection, public education and efforts to prevent substance abuse. Virginia’s Legislative Black Caucus endorsed Northam’s proposed legislation. Republicans have refused official comment while they wait for the full bill to be made public.

Rules, rules, rules. The proposed legislation was surprisingly specific.

  • Customers could buy up to an ounce of marijuana which is a supply sufficient for about 80 joints.
  • The overall tax rate would be 30% composed of 21% for the state, local sales taxes and up to 3% for the locality.
  • Localities will have to “opt in.” Any locality that doesn’t want marijuana sales in its jurisdiction can elect to prohibit sales of the wacky weed.
  • Estimates of the total tax take from legal grass vary. One analysis predicted $564m in taxes over the first five years with $183m in year five. A different model pegged year five taxes at $230m.
  • Money from the tax would be split among funding affordable pre-school (40%), making restitution to people and communities hurt by the historical enforcement of marijuana laws (30%), substance abuse prevention (25%) and general health (5%).
  • Virginia’s ABC Authority will be in charge of establishing detailed regulations.
  • Home cultivation of up to two mature plants and two immature plants will be allowed.

ACLU wants more. The ACLU of Virginia supports legalization but feels the Northam proposal doesn’t go far enough. The ACLU would like to see marijuana possession legalized while the retail regulations are being hashed out. This would result in a situation similar to that which exists in Washington, D.C., today – marijuana possession is legal but sales are not.  The ACLU also objects to the role of the ABC in writing the regulations partly out of a concern that ABC-written regulations will be detrimental to small businesses.

Tokelahoma. Northam’s proposed approach stands in contrast to the legalization effort in Oklahoma. The Sooner State’s legalization process pays homage to its history as part of the wild, wild west. Rules are few and dispensaries are shooting up like mushrooms after a rain storm. Since legalizing medical marijuana Oklahoma has the biggest medical weed business, on a per capita basis, in the United States. Medical marijuana can be prescribed for just about anything and a stunning 10% of Oklahomans have acquired their medical marijuana cards over the last two years. One Oklahoma city, Ardmore, has 36 dispensaries — one for every 700 citizens. As one grower who relocated from Colorado to Oklahoma said, “Turns out rednecks love to smoke weed.”

Rip Wrap. Good for Northam and the sponsors in the General Assembly. Making marijuana a crime didn’t stop people from using pot. Black Virginians, who use marijuana at about the same rate as white Virginians, were arrested at 3.5X a higher rate for marijuana related offenses. Our law enforcement officers, courts and jails were spending time and money that didn’t need to be spent. The profits and potential taxes on marijuana went to dealers and cartels rather than entrepreneurs and state and local government. It would be nice if Virginia could get its butt in gear and start retail operations earlier than 2023. A relatively unfettered approach like the effort in Oklahoma could cut the time to market down considerably. Finally, the ACLU recommendation of immediate legalization (before legal retail sales) is a very good idea.