Virginia’s latest legalization bill proposes to continue the War on Drugs by including new possession crimes, while granting a head start to the same institutions who continue to manufacture exclusion and enforcement.
Multiple bills before the assembly aim to allow exclusive early sales for current medical operators and hemp processors by accelerating the adult-use market by one year. We, the undersigned, oppose exclusive early sales. Speeding up the market is not only unsafe, but it negatively impacts the implementation of social equity programs. This move will deny the people who bore the brunt of the War on Drugs opportunities to join the legal cannabis industry.
In fact, according to a recently published report, social equity operators contribute a return of 20 cents for each dollar and support the operators’ communities. By leaving out social equity operators and giving advantages to medical cannabis corporations, legislators not only go back on their promise to ensure a place in the industry for those most impacted by cannabis prohibition but they put the opportunity for a 20% social return on investment at risk.
Instead, legislators are proposing to give medical operators exclusive first-mover advantage. Despite claims this would deter the unregulated market, there are no examples this would be true. In fact, there is ample evidence to the contrary. Limited markets with insurmountable barriers to entry for small businesses have led to the proliferation of the unregulated market. With teams of lawyers and lobbyists on hand, large operators have turned temporary solutions into flourishing oligopolies. Three years after Illinois granted medical retailers a head start, not one social equity retailer has opened their doors. Early and exclusive market capture by a handful of large companies have consistently undermined efforts to create an equitable and diverse industry supported by small local businesses.
The current proposals will also re-criminalize marijuana by adding new possession crimes punishable with high fines and imprisonment. For decades, the data shows that Black and brown residents have been penalized at least 4 times the rate as white people in the Commonwealth. The new misdemeanors and felonies will undoubtedly be carried out on Black residents in Virginia, continuing the Drug War.
It is in our best interest to ensure the social equity is at the forefront of cannabis industry supported by national research, therefore, we are recommending the following:
- The removal of any new crimes for possession of cannabis including the proposed misdemeanor and felony charges that lead to fines of up to $1,000 and up to 10 years in prison.
- Meaningful and timely resentencing timeline for those who would be eligible for parole
- Virginia adult-use sales commence in 2024 as originally proposed and ensure provisions for social applicants to have priority status in the application process. Deny exclusive early market sales until social equity operators can launch at the same ratio as medical operators.
- Funding from the Social Equity Incubator Loan should be made grants that are available for social equity operators to open Day 1.
Supporting organizations for this letter include:
Minority Cannabis Business Association
Justice Forward Virginia
Drug Policy Alliance
Cannabis Regulators of Color Coalition (CRCC)
Minorities For Medical Marijuana
Black Lives Matter 804
RISE for Youth
Virginia Student Power Network
Bridging the Gap Virginia
Resource Information Help for the Disadvantaged and Disenfranchised (RIHD)
Freedom For Felons
Help Me Help You
Philadelphia CannaBusiness Association
Black Cannabis Week
Equity and Transformation (E.A.T)
Students for Sensible Drug Policy
Black Freedom Collective
ACLU of Virginia
Mommies and Mary Jane
Cannabis Equity Consultants, LLC
Virginians Against Drug Violence
Neighborhood Resource Center
Diasporic Alliance for Cannabis Opportunities (DACO)
Va Black Leaders Round Table
Richmond Crusade for Voters
Virginia Alliance Against Mass Incarceration
Cannabis Equity Coalition of Virginia