The Cavalier Daily writes

With leisure marijuana authorized as of July 1, 2021, the Commonwealth must transfer to release all these in jail for marijuana offenses

Earlier this month, the Virginia General Assembly passed a remaining model of a invoice to legalize leisure marijuana within the Commonwealth. While the unique model of the invoice set the legalization date in 2024, an amendment proposed by Governor Ralph Northam and authorized by each chambers of the legislature moved the date as much as July 1, 2021. The laws is monumental — Virginia is the first state in the South to legalize leisure marijuana.

This victory must be celebrated — marijuana is among the safest substances on the market, and legalization has been proven to scale back general incarceration charges and stop violent crime from drug cartels. Despite legalization although, the Commonwealth at present has no plans to free individuals incarcerated for marijuana convictions — together with possession, intent of or precise distribution and so forth. While a resentencing plan was included in draft versions of the legalization invoice, it was in the end disregarded of the invoice’s remaining model handed by the General Assembly. Governor Northam has said that he desires legalization targeted on social justice — a objective solely attainable if it contains releasing individuals incarcerated for marijuana offenses.

Opponents of releasing marijuana offenders argue they broke the legislation when marijuana was unlawful, and must due to this fact serve the rest of their sentence. They did break the legislation — however the legislation was unjust, supposed to hurt communities of coloration and arbitrarily utilized. Most of our modern drug legal guidelines discover their origins in Nixon’s War on Drugs. Not solely ineffective and counterproductive, the War on Drugs was deployed to uphold white supremacist values and oppress Black Americans. In a 1994 interview, for instance, certainly one of Nixon’s former aides admitted that the War on Drugs was created as a software of violence in opposition to Black communities.

The racism and neighborhood hurt from the War on Drugs and its lasting insurance policies are nonetheless felt throughout the nation at the moment. In 2017, the Virginia Crime Commission found that 46 % of the individuals arrested for marijuana offenses from 2007 to 2016 have been Black — regardless of Black individuals solely making up about 20 % of the Commonwealth’s inhabitants. In 2019, marijuana arrests in Virginia reached their highest levels in twenty years — practically 29,000 arrested.  Legalization is a step in the direction of social justice, however correcting the historic concentrating on of Black individuals with arrests and incarceration must accompany it.

Moderates — in a foolish bid for compromise — will recommend that solely nonviolent marijuana offenders must be freed. The truth of the matter is {that a} “nonviolent marijuana offender” shouldn’t be an actual class however relatively a phrase of political convenience. There is not any strong definition of what constitutes nonviolent. For instance, some argue it ought to exclude these whose marijuana crimes concerned a weapon — even when the weapon had nothing to do with the crime, and was simply on their particular person on the time of arrest. Instead of going through and responding to arduous truths about racial justice, politicians resort to fabricated phrases that will do little to scale back mass incarceration. All individuals incarcerated for possession and distribution of marijuana — assuming no different convictions — must be freed.

Aside from selling social justice by releasing marijuana offenders, Virginia must critically reevaluate how we reply to all drug customers. Mounting evidence demonstrates that incarceration shouldn’t be the reply to drug habit — remedy and rehabilitation are. Virginia already employs the first offender program, for instance. An individual’s first drug conviction will be sentenced with neighborhood service and habit counseling. After the primary offense although, individuals face necessary minimal jail sentences and harsher punishments. Combating drug use is a marathon, not a dash — a relapse mustn’t result in jail time. Alternative sentencing must be expanded to cowl all drug use and never cease after the primary offense. We must cease treating drug use like a legal difficulty and begin treating it for what it’s — a healthcare difficulty.

The General Assembly’s transfer to legalize leisure marijuana and create a regulated marketplace for it within the Commonwealth is undeniably an excellent factor. Governor Northam’s dedication to social justice in legalization is strictly what Virginia wants in our modern interval. But it’s not possible to legalize marijuana beneath the banner of social justice with out accounting for and actively addressing the historic hurt American drug insurance policies have induced. It is not possible to meet our objective of racial justice with out releasing these incarcerated for previous marijuana offenses.

Noah Strike is an Opinion Columnist for The Cavalier Daily. He will be reached at

The opinions expressed on this column aren’t essentially these of The Cavalier Daily. Columns characterize the views of the authors alone.


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