Less than two weeks after five states voted to legalize cannabis in this month’s election, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam announced on Monday that he would introduce legislation to legalize adult-use marijuana in the state. The move comes as his administration prepares to release a report on the impact that cannabis legalization is likely to have on the state.

“It’s time to legalize marijuana in Virginia,” Northam said in a press release. “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.”

The governor’s office said in the statement that Northam would work closely with lawmakers to introduce a legalization bill in next year’s legislative session, although he warned that “it’s not going to happen overnight” and predicted the process would take approximately 18 to 24 months.

Earlier this year, Northam signed legislation that effectively decriminalized marijuana in Virginia. But he said on Monday that more reform is necessary to address the harms caused by the nation’s failed but continuing War on Drugs.

“Marijuana laws have been based originally in discrimination and undoing these harms means things like social equity licenses, access to capital, community reinvestment, and sealing or expunging people’s prior records,” he said.

Northam made clear in his announcement that his support for a cannabis legalization bill hinges on the inclusion of five principles: social, racial, and economic equity; public health; protections for young people; upholding the Virginia Indoor Clean Air Act; and the ongoing collection of data on health, safety, and equity.

Virginia AG On Board With Legalization

Virginia’s top law enforcement officer, Attorney General Mark Herring, announced his support for Northam’s push for cannabis legalization on social media. 

“Virginia needs to allow legal, regulated adult use of marijuana as a matter of public safety, justice, equity, and economic opportunity,” Herring tweeted.

Virginia state Sen. Adam P. Ebbin, a Democrat who sponsored this year’s decriminalization bill, said that he has already been working on a legalization bill for the next session and that he is thrilled by Northam’s support for the issue.

“This is a major and important positive development,” Ebbin said. “We’re facing a shorter legislative session this year, and the administration’s support will make a difference on a bill that’s going to be complicated and have a lot of moving parts.”

Jenn Michelle Pedini, the development director for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) and the executive director of the group’s Virginia chapter, served on Northam’s marijuana working group. In a press release, Pedini said that they were not surprised by the governor’s support for adult-use cannabis.

“Governor Northam has always been thoughtful in his approach to cannabis policy. NORML appreciates that social equity, racial equity, and economic equity are among his primary considerations,” said Pedini. “We look forward to continuing our work with the administration and the legislature to ‘get this right.”

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