Northam to introduce marijuana legalization legislation

Governor Ralph Northam plans to introduce legislation to legalize marijuana in the commonwealth of Virginia.

“It’s time to legalize marijuana in Virginia,” Gov. Northam said. “Our Commonwealth has an opportunity to be the first state in the South to take this step, and we will lead with a focus on equity, public health and public safety. I look forward to working with the General Assembly to get this right.”



Northam is building his plan around findings from a recently released report, which was done in response to SJ67 and HJ130. Though marijuana use is illegal under federal law, medicinal use of the substance is legal in many states including Virginia.

One of the main findings of the study is legalization would further equity efforts. Currently, Blacks make up high percentage of those arrested and convicted of marijuana offenses. From 2010-19, the average arrest rate of Blacks for marijuana possession was 3.5 times higher than the arrest rate for whites, and significantly higher than arrest rates for other racial or ethnic groups. Black individuals were also convicted at a rate of 3.9 times higher rate 3.9 times than whites.

Blacks in other states haven’t benefitted from the commercialization of marijuana, so in order to make the industry equitable, Virginia could embed social equity initiatives into the legalization process.

The report finds public health measures would need to be implemented, such as prohibiting people from driving after using marijuana and put it into the same category as alcohol. A public health campaign would need to be launched detailing the risks of use to both youth and adults.

The Northam Administration is working closely with lawmakers to finalize legislation in advance of the 2021 General Assembly session. Northam says legislation around legalization of adult-use marijuana will address:

  • Social equity, racial equity and economic equity. Marijuana prohibition has historically been based in discrimination, and the impact of criminalization laws have disproportionately harmed minority communities as result. A report of the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission (JLARC) issued today found that Black Virginians are arrested and convicted for marijuana use at more than three times the rate of white Virginians. Legislation should focus on undoing these harms by including initiatives such as social equity license programs, access to capital, community reinvestment and sealing or expunging records of past marijuana-related convictions.
  • Public health. Legislation should include substance abuse prevention efforts in schools and communities.
  • Protections for young people. As a pediatrician, Governor Northam will require any legislation to include protections for Virginia’s youth, including age limits, mandatory ID checks and education campaigns.
  • Upholding the Virginia Indoor Clean Air Act. Legislation should be aligned with the Virginia Indoor Clean Air Act prohibiting indoor tobacco use, which Governor Northam championed as a state Senator.
  • Data collection. Legislation should ensure Virginia collects appropriate and ongoing information on safety, health and equity.

In 2020, Gov. Northam signed legislation that decriminalized simple marijuana possession in Virginia. The legislation also required the secretaries of Agriculture and Forestry, Finance, Health and Human Resources, and Public Safety and Homeland Security to convene a Virginia Marijuana Legalization Work Group to study the impact on the commonwealth of legalizing the sale and personal use of marijuana and report the recommendations of the work group to the General Assembly and the governor by Nov. 30, 2020.