McClellan Statement on Marijuana Legalization Study

Today, Sen. Jennifer McClellan issued the following statement regarding the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission’s study on marijuana legalization. Sen. McClellan was the Senate patron of SJ67, which required this study. Delegate Steve Heretick carried the House companion, HJ130.

“During the 2020 General Assembly Session, Delegate Steve Heretick and I carried legislation requiring JLARC to study how Virginia should legalize marijuana in a way that redresses the disportionate impact of prohibition on Black and Brown individuals and communities. 

“Not surprisingly, JLARC’s study shows that Black Virginians are disproportionately arrested and convicted of marijuana offenses. Yet, in states that have created commercial marijuana markets, there are few Black-owned marijuana businesses.

“This study paves the way for action on marijuana legalization that not only redresses the disportionate impact of prohibition, but ensures Black and Brown Virginians have an opportunity to benefit from the new commercial market. During the 2021 legislative session, I will work to ensure the social equity components of marijuana legalization are enacted. 

“The war on drugs has disproportionately impacted Black and Brown communities for decades. Marijuana policies have perpetuated inequity in Virginia for too long. Today’s study is the next step to move towards legalization and greater equity.”

The study released today showed the following findings: 

  • Black Virginians comprise a disproportionately high percentage of individuals arrested and convicted of marijuana offenses.
  • From 2010–2019, the average arrest rate of Black individuals for marijuana possession was 3.5 times higher than the arrest rate for white individuals (and significantly higher than arrest rates for other racial or ethnic groups).
  • Black individuals were also convicted at a much higher rate — 3.9 times higher than white individuals. 
  • In other states that have created commercial marijuana markets, relatively few Black individuals have benefited from the establishment of commercial marijuana markets. 
  • To redress past disproportionality in marijuana enforcement and ensure Black Virginians have an opportunity to benefit from the new commercial market, Virginia should implement “social equity” initiatives.

The complete list of JLARC recommendations and policy options can be found here.