Virginia’s governor used his annual State of the Commonwealth speech on Wednesday night to call on lawmakers to enact marijuana reform.
“We need to take an honest look at our criminal justice system to make sure we’re treating people fairly and using taxpayer dollars wisely,” Gov. Ralph Northam (D) said. “This means decriminalizing marijuana possession—and clearing the records of people who’ve gotten in trouble for it.”
Northam, who ran on support for removing criminal penalties for possession during his 2017 election campaign, announced last week in a separate policy speech that cannabis decriminalization is at the top of his criminal justice reform agenda for 2020.
“Studies show marijuana arrests have disproportionately impacted people of color—this legislation clears the records of individuals who have been previously convicted of simple possession,” Northam’s administration said in a document outlining his legislative goals.
In addition to treating cannabis possession with $50 fine, the agenda also calls for removing driver’s license suspensions as a punishment for drug offenses.
Watch Northam’s State of the Commonwealth marijuana comments below:
Northam also touted his support for cannabis decriminalization during his 2019 State of the Commonwealth address, but the idea languished in the Republican-controlled legislature.
But the new comments come as momentum for cannabis reform is building in the commonwealth.
Democrats took control of the the state Senate and House of Delegates in November’s elections, raising the prospects for the issue considerably.
This means decriminalizing marijuana possession—and clearing the records of people who’ve gotten in trouble for it. It means making permanent the temporary policy passed last year—the one that says no more suspended driver's licenses, just because you owe court fines. #SOTC
— Ralph Northam (@GovernorVA) January 9, 2020
Attorney General Mark Herring (D), hosted a cannabis summit last month aimed at building support for decriminalization. The top cop, who is running to succeed the term-limited Northam in 2021, has already announced he wants to take steps toward broader marijuana legalization once the more modest step of decriminalization is enacted.
Last week, two newly sworn in prosecutors announced they would no longer pursue marijuana possession cases.
Several marijuana decriminalization and legalization bills have already been filed for the new legislative session.
Elsewhere, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) used his State of the State speech on Wednesday to push for marijuana legalization.
Meanwhile, a growing number of marijuana measures are qualifying for November ballots in other states.
On Wednesday, Mississippi’s secretary of state verified that activists collected enough signatures to place a medical cannabis legalization question before voters.
South Dakota will see both a full marijuana legalization measure and a medical cannabis-focused initiative on its ballot.
And in New Jersey, lawmakers adopted a resolution last month that will put the question of marijuana legalization to voters.
Several other states—including Arizona, Florida, Nebraska and South Dakota—are positioned to potentially qualify marijuana ballot measures for November, as well.
Photo courtesy of Ralph Northam.