It’s high time to change | Richmond Free Press

We draw our readers’ attention to 4/20 – World Weed Day – and the efforts for equal and restorative justice for black and brown communities who for decades have borne the brunt of the national “war on drugs”.

Government statistics indicate that African Americans are 3.6 times more likely to be arrested for cannabis possession than white Americans despite the fact that cannabis use in the two communities is essentially the same. According to The Collective PAC, black people make up about 90% of marijuana-related arrests in this country.

These disproportionate arrests are taking place despite the fact that 39 states – including Virginia – have legalized marijuana for medical and/or recreational use.

In Virginia, we still haven’t developed a system to clear the criminal records of those who have been arrested and/or locked up for possession of small amounts of cannabis that are no longer a felony.

This must change.

On April 1, the United States House of Representatives passed the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act, known as the MORE Act. No April Fool’s Day joke, the MORE Act would legalize cannabis federally, expunge the records of those convicted of cannabis-related crimes, and allocate taxes on cannabis products produced in or imported into the United States for helping the communities hardest hit by the war on drugs. This means investments in black and brown communities across the country.

But as usual, the US Senate is slow to support this legislation.

US Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey, a member of the Congressional Black Caucus, is working on a Senate version of the bill, along with two of his fellow Democrats, Sens Chuck Schumer of New York and Ron Wyden of Oregon.

We urge the Senate to pass the MORE Act.

And we urge our readers to learn more about federal legislation, as well as what’s happening in Virginia around cannabis and the cannabis industry.

We understand that black people are walking a tightrope when it comes to legalizing marijuana. We are conflicted by the flood of messages sent since the Reagan administration about drug use and the long history of criminalization of marijuana use within our communities, as authorities have used the simple possession of marijuana to trapping and locking up black men for years.

But now that Virginia has legalized small amounts of marijuana for personal use and urged businesses to open dispensaries for medical distribution, we are witnessing a system that still inflicts disparate treatment on black people.

Nationally, the legal cannabis industry generates over $25 billion a year. But as usual, the beneficiaries of changing laws legalizing the sale of marijuana for medical and recreational purposes are not blacks and browns.

While we are disproportionately locked behind marijuana, more than 70% of owners in the cannabis industry are white, according to national statistics, while only about 7% are black.

In Virginia, no black people hold any stake in the companies that have been granted the four licenses to operate medical dispensaries in the Commonwealth. Now, these licensees each have the option of opening five additional satellite sites in the state, giving them a head start once the rules for recreational cannabis sales are written.

But even more troubling is the fact that Republican Gov. Glenn A. Youngkin is trying to restore criminal penalties for possession of marijuana in Virginia.

On Wednesday, April 27, the Virginia General Assembly will consider its proposed amendments to Senate Bill 591 that would make it a crime for someone to have more than 2 ounces of marijuana.

Currently in Virginia, possession of one ounce or less of marijuana by anyone 21 or older is legal. If someone is caught with between one ounce and one pound of marijuana, they face a civil fine of $25. Possession of more than one pound is a crime.

But Governor Youngkin claims it is “good governance” to change Virginia law and make criminals those who possess more than an ounce of marijuana.

The governor also amended the bill to ban the sale of certain hemp products currently available in Virginia and to limit the sale of CBD to people age 21 and older.

The changes are opposed by many groups in Virginia, including Marijuana Justice, the Cannabis Equity Coalition of Virginia, Cannabis Equity Consultants, and the state’s NAACP.

We know what is behind Governor Youngkin’s efforts. He wants to help the “big boys” already in the marijuana business and criminalize those who grow or own more than an ounce on their own – largely black people.

We urge our readers to contact members of the Virginia General Assembly before next Wednesday’s session resumes and tell them to oppose Governor Youngkin’s amendments to SB591.

Virginia may be open for business, as Governor Youngkin says, but it’s not equally open for all of us.

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