On Monday, Virginia’s Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam made a public announcement calling for the state to decriminalize the possession of marijuana. He claims that prohibition has led to increased expenditure for enforcement and also fuels the disproportionate rate of African-Americans incarcerated in the state.
The former physician-turned-politician recently published an op-ed on Medium entitled “A More Fair And Just Virginia.” In the piece, Northam provided ACLU statistics from 2010, which showed that African-Americans in Virginia were 2.8 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than whites. Additionally, marijuana enforcement has cost Virginia taxpayers more than $67 million per year.
In November, the state’s Senate Majority Leader Thomas K. Norment Jr. requested that the Virginia State Crime Commission conduct a study on the glaring incarceration problem. Unfortunately, this pending study has halted legislation proposed by Democratic Sen. Adam Ebbin, which aims to change the punishment for possessing small amounts of marijuana from a criminal charge to a civil fine.
In his op-ed, Northam also shared his growing belief in the medicinal value of cannabis, particularly when it comes to relieving pain, alleviating multiple sclerosis symptoms, and treating epilepsy and PTSD.
“As a doctor, I like to make the point to people, over 100 of the medicines that we use on a daily basis come from plants. So I think we need to be open-minded about using marijuana for medical purposes,” Northam recently said in an interview.
Last year, Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe called for a statewide medical marijuana program in 2017, but expressed his lack of confidence in the state legislature to pass one. Virginia has also seen a potential revival in industrial hemp production through a research program that was developed back in 2015.
Formerly a pediatric neurologist at the Children’s Hospital of The King’s Daughters in Norfolk, Lt. Gov. Northam’s opinion is respected by state politicians and medical professionals alike. With the Gov. McAuliffe on his side, the lieutenant governor sees a real chance for cannabis reform in Virginia.
Whether his efforts result in decriminalization or even a comprehensive medical program remains to be seen, but whatever the future holds for cannabis in Virginia, you can expect Northam to be fighting on the frontline.