Last year, Virginia legalized cannabis with comprehensive equity provisions. This year, the new Republican-led government seeks to reverse equity provisions starting with SB107 that would eliminate the Cannabis Equity Reinvestment Fund and steer 30% of the tax revenue to the general fund.
The Fund would have:
Supported persons, families, and communities historically and disproportionately targeted and affected by drug enforcement;
Provided scholarship opportunities and educational and vocational resources for historically marginalized persons, including persons in foster care, who have been adversely impacted by substance use individually, in their families, or in their communities;
Awarded grants to support workforce development, mentoring programs, job training and placement services, apprenticeships, and reentry services that serve persons and communities historically and disproportionately targeted by drug enforcement.
Contributed to the Virginia Indigent Defense Commission; and
Contributed to the Virginia Cannabis Equity Business Loan Fund.
Virginia is a state built on the tobacco industry that was built on the backs of enslaved Black people. Virginia is a state where some counties arrest people of color for cannabis at 16 times the rate of whites despite equal rates of use. Eliminating the Fund goes back on Virginia’s promise to help redress the vestiges of prohibition and the state’s rich history of systemic racism through cannabis reinvestment.
Republican lawmakers are not content with eliminating the Fund, they are taking aim at the social equity program the lawmakers call the “give a felon a license” program, due to prior efforts to ensure the individuals most impacted by prohibition have a chance to participate in the legal market. These efforts undermine the work done last year to ensure communities of color can also benefit from the legal cannabis industry. Currently, the entire market is exclusively controlled by just four medical operators.
In addition to dismantling the social equity program, existing medical operators and hemp companies are pushing to secure access to the adult-use market ahead of all other applicants, providing a first-mover advantage that would allow them to capture the adult-use market with the aid of exemptions to the ban on vertical integration.
What is unfolding in Virginia, dismantling of social equity and capture of the market by the few, stands in direct contrast to the core values of cannabis equity and is a threat to the growth of an equitable and sustainable market in a state with a long history of inequity and injustice. We call on Virginia residents, including the existing medical operators, to stand against these changes to ensure Virginia remains a beacon for equitable cannabis reform in the South.