Racism, COVID19 and Marijuana Legalization in Virginia

By DJ Rippert

Unintended consequences.  Newspapers, websites and Bacon’s Rebellion have been full of articles describing and debating the COVID-19 pandemic and the police killing of George Floyd with the attendant protests. First-order consequences of these events have been widely discussed. However, as we enter into the “new normal” a number of secondary and tertiary questions arise. One such question pertains to the legalization of recreational marijuana in Virginia. My opinion is that both the COVID-19 pandemic’s economic fallout and the new sense of urgency around racial justice should compel our state government to accelerate the legalization of adult use marijuana.

The COVID19 lockdown recession. The sudden stop to Virginia’s economy has resulted in predictable fiscal turmoil. While one can debate whether the lockdown was too restrictive, not sufficiently restrictive, too long or too short there can be no debate that closing large parts of the economy has caused deep financial issues. The US economy is in recession. Some will say that Virginia will be insulated from the worst of that recession by the flow of federal dollars through the state. To that I’d reply – “don’t be naive, Nancy” … stories of the impact on small businesses are being reported across the state. It should be obvious to everybody that Virginia faces a fiscal winter even if there is no second wave of Coronavirus this actual winter.

Does sand remove shoe polish? From a fiscal recovery perspective Ralph Northam is acting like an ostrich with its head in the sand. Having largely bumbled his way through the health care response to COVID-19 Northam has followed a bumpy but essentially status quo approach to reopening. Less aggressive than neighboring Tennessee but more aggressive than Maryland  Yet our governor seems to have little to say about the looming financial crisisNorm Leahy, writing an opinion piece in the Washington Post titled, “Governor Northam’s forgotten epidemic: Virginia’s unemployed” starts to put the long- term economic costs of closing into perspective.

When Northam does address Virginia’s economy he is surprisingly upbeat. Speaking in May, Northam acknowledged that Virginia’s revenues (almost exclusively from taxes) came in $700M under budget in April but predicted only a shortfall of $1B by the end of June. Finance chief Aubrey Layne backstopped Northam saying, “We still have quite a few businesses operating and paying their employees, I think a lot of that has to do with the strength of the economy.” This optimism seems hard to fathom given the number of economists who saw Virginia’s recovery from the Great Recession as sluggish. We limped out of the last recession but we’ll come roaring out of this one?

Woke tokeThe facts with regard to racism and marijuana law enforcement. are clear. While black Americans are as equally likely to partake in using marijuana as white Americans, they are vastly more likely to be arrested for doing so.  Recent analysis in Virginia shows the Old Dominion is no exception to this rule.  This, in large part, caused the General Assembly to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana in the last session. Case closed, discrimination over? Sadly, data from Maryland (where marijuana possession was decriminalized in 2014) casts doubt on the hope that decriminalization alone will provide equity. Years after decriminalization black residents of Maryland are still bearing a disproportionate level of marijuana enforcement pain.  Is there any real reason to believe that Virginia’s experience will be different than Maryland’s?

A win – win? I have no doubt that using marijuana is harmful to one’s health. So is consuming alcohol, tobacco, nicotine through vaping and pounder bags of Mike & Ike candy. I also have no doubt that marijuana is being consumed in quantity in Virginia and will continue to be consumed in quantity regardless of its legal status. Finally, I have no doubt that significant potential tax revenue is being lost to the criminal element who produce and distribute weed illegally in Virginia.

So, what’s a woke and broke governor with a woke and broke legislative majority to do? As Peter Tosh once sang, “Legalize It!”

Let’s stipulate that a disproportionate amount of legal pain from the so-called War on Drugs in Virginia fell upon black Virginians. Let’s reasonably assume that the worst of the COVID-19 lockdown fallout in Virginia will harm rural and small town Virginians. Let’s further assume that Northam and Layne’s rosy predictions for Virginia’s economic recovery are … well … since this is a family- oriented blog … unrealistic. The General Assembly needs to legalize recreational marijuana in Virginia with specified “grow zones” in impoverished rural areas along with a disproportionate share of dispensary licenses given to black Virginians. Oh, and for you conservatives out there … the taxes from the dope should give you hope. Hope that the inevitable tax increases coming from our state government will be somewhat lower if we divert marijuana revenue from drug cartels to working Virginians with taxes going to Richmond.

Remember, it’s woke to let Virginia toke and we’ll be less broke.

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21 responses to “Racism, COVID19 and Marijuana Legalization in Virginia

  1. Which drug cartel loses revenue, Altria? Reynolds?

    If you want to bring up COVID, that data is clear: Fouling your lungs and damaging your capillaries with inhaled foreign substances is a ticket to the ICU. But hey, go for it. Go whole hog into full legalization and retail availability.

  2. Well, my whole take on this revolves around two facts.

    1. Every time I ask folks if they have ever heard of an individual who could not readily obtain any illicit drug, the answer is no. The War on Drugs has not stopped the first individual from obtaining any drug they want.

    2. The price of the War on Drugs is astronomical, both in financial and human terms. If drugs were regulated to the same degree as onions (to borrow a phrase from Larry Sharpe), how many fewer murders would be committed over drug sales turf? How many fewer Americans would be in jail, considering all those in there for drug and drug related offenses. How powerful would drug cartels be south of the border?

    The whole prospect of telling an adult citizen of a supposedly free county what they may not ingest is ludicrous. The idea of perpetuating the War on Drugs when it is so painfully obvious that the endeavor has not achieved the first objective is even more nonsensical.

    • You got it. Just like Lee saw that the “War Between the States” was hopeless it’s time we see the War on Drugs as a failure too. More money down the drain, more people with criminal records, more profits for dealers, no taxes for government. How long do we pretend?

  3. If you want to get the police off the back of the black man – take away the broken tail lights and “possession” and the rate of young black men going to jail would plummet.

    Note how carefully, DJ steers around these issues…

    and just how “bumbling” Northam is , even though Hogan and Md fall behind him and Va on these issues..

    • I don’t think cops in Virginia still smash out taillights after they pull someone over, do they?

    • “The facts with regard to racism and marijuana law enforcement. are clear. While black Americans are as equally likely to partake in using marijuana as white Americans, they are vastly more likely to be arrested for doing so. ”

      Not sure how this steers around anything.

      Broken taillights are beyond the scope of this post.

  4. The solution? gummies!

    • About 15 months ago I went skiing in Colorado. First time since legalization. Gummies? Went to a dispensary in the interests of journalism. How about soda, coffee, candy, vapes, biscuits, etc, etc.

      I do have some worries about legalization and underaged use. It’s a deterrent to smoke a joint and walk around reeking of marijuana. Parents and teachers notice that. Like having Jack Daniels breath raises alarms. But eating a gummy? Hard to detect. Of course taking a vicodin is hard to detect too and, as far as I know, vicodin is still legal (under prescription).

      “She goes running for the shelter of her Mommy’s little helper”

  5. Listen to one of your own… a worldly conservative gent with the knowledge, Judge Jim Gray.

    https://en.m.wikiquote.org/wiki/James_P._Gray

    • Love this quote … “Even high security prisoners like Charles Manson are testing positive in prison for illicit drugs… Our laws are not deterring many people from a life of drug abuse and drug trafficking, and if we cannot even keep these drug out of our prisons, how can we expect to keep them out of our communities?”

      And, on a finer point, I am a libertarian not a conservative. There is definitely a difference.

  6. Nice, an article on small businesses, half of which were destined to fail, failing.

  7. Legalize POT!!!!!
    you guys spends hours and days talking about how dangerous COVID is and yet you want to legalize something that is not good for your health and will kill you when you inhale, along with cig smoke and ecigs….
    If you really and honestly cared about people dying and hurting their health you would make this stuff illegal. .. but the truth is you don’t care, you’re just a debate society with a lot of figures, numbers and discussion…

    • Personally, I care about individual liberty and freedom. Any government that is so overgrown and invasive that it criminalizes the possession of a plant by adults is a disaster.

      If you don’t want to smoke marijuana – then don’t. Unlike COVID19 nobody is going to sneeze at the table next to you in a restaurant and turn you into a stoner.

      Marijuana will kill you when you inhale? Guess it’s good that Bill Clinton never inhaled. What are you talking about? People in America have been smoking marijuana at scale for 55+ years. Who inhaled and died?

      Given your interest in an intrusive government protecting people’s health … do you want to …

      Mandate exercise periods for all citizens?
      Ban alcohol?
      Make tobacco illegal?
      Set up a rationing system for cheeseburgers?
      Think hang gliding and parachuting should be illegal?
      Propose that the nationwide speed limit be reduced to 15 mph?

      Roller coasters, crab fishing and mining need to be eliminated. And certainly ALL guns and any large knives need to be made illegal.

      Where does it stop?

      If you don’t want to smoke marijuana then don’t smoke marijuana.

      In the meantime. recognize that legalizing marijuana is as much of a given (over time) as extending full rights to gay people was a given 10 years ago. The only question for Virginia is when, not if. And every year we delay – billions in what could have been tax dollars are kept by criminals.

  8. Let me also point out that all the fat and obese folk out there (not to mention smokers) obviously don’t care about their health… and they make up what,, some 60% or more of our population….
    And if they don’t care about being healthy by keeping their weight down why should I care about them and wear a mask…

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