Virginia's governor says he backs legalizing marijuana

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) said Monday that he supports legalizing marijuana use in the state, citing the potential for increased tax revenue.

“We are going to move forward with the legalization of marijuana in Virginia. I support this, and I’m committed to doing it the right way,” Northam said during a news briefing.

Virginia would become the first Southern state to legalize marijuana.


Possession of marijuana was decriminalized earlier this year in Virginia, with a $25 civil penalty for the first offense. That same measure approved a study on the matter of legalizing marijuana.

When he ran for governor in 2017, Northam pledged to decriminalize marijuana possession, though he did not go as far as talking about legalizing it.

Northam on Monday said his decision to support legalization came from studies that showed people of color are nearly three times more likely to be arrested than white people despite similar rates of marijuana use in both groups. He said the Virginia marijuana industry must be equitable for communities of color and that an effort would be made to consider such factors when granting business licenses.


Northam, a pediatric neurologist, said marijuana has also been shown to help children with epilepsy and other disorders.

He also cited public opinion polls that indicated growing support for marijuana legalization.

“Our goal is not ... to encourage use but to make sure adults are making informed decisions,” Virginia health secretary Daniel Carey said Monday.

He said the state would focus on collecting data to understand the effect of marijuana use as well as learn from other states that have legalized marijuana.