Our reading list for March includes Senate Bill 1406, the 264-page bill that the General Assembly just passed that will legalize marijuana in 2024. It’s not the most riveting prose we’ve ever read, but it is fascinating in its own peculiar way. Whether you favor legalization or oppose it, the odds are that Virginians don’t fully comprehend what the legislature has set in motion.
As previously noted, there are three aspects of the bill, which might get even longer if Gov. Ralph Northam proposes amendments, as many think he will. First, the “social equity” provision is intended to give an advantage to Black applicants for licenses to operate marijuana-related businesses — compensation for how over the years Black Virginians have been arrested at higher rates than whites for misdemeanor marijuana offenses. However, given the criteria that will be considered, it seems that provision will also benefit a lot of white applicants from Southwest Virginia — an indication of how the economic interests of Black Virginians and conservative rural whites are often more aligned that their differing politics might suggest.
Second, we pointed out that — unlike the laws in the most famous legal weed states — Virginia will make it hard for localities to opt out. They have one chance, and one chance only, to hold a referendum to prohibit retail sales. That referendum must be in 2022. It’s like the famous Eminem song “Lose Yourself” — they’ve got one shot, one opportunity. You can view this either Virginia adopting a more liberal law than even California or Colorado (if you’re against legal pot) or you can view it as a pro-business law (because this creates more opportunities for the coming generation of marijuana entrepreneurs).
Finally, we noted that, unlike some other states, Virginia allows cultivation everywhere. A locality might