Mayor Levar Stoney of Richmond, Virginia is calling on state leaders to legalize cannabis during a special session of the legislature slated for later this month. In a letter Stoney sent to Gov. Ralph Northam, House Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn, and Senate Majority Leader Richard Saslaw on Tuesday, the mayor wrote that legalizing marijuana and enacting other policy reforms he is recommending would “help increase equity and inclusion in the Commonwealth of Virginia.”
“Not only do marijuana arrests comprise a majority of the total arrests in Virginia, but out of those arrests a disproportionate number are of Black people,” Stoney wrote in the letter. “Let’s not forget the negative impact an arrest and conviction can have on someone’s life, especially when it comes to employment and housing opportunities.”
Stoney called on the governor and lawmakers to pass legislation that would legalize marijuana and establish an excise tax that could be used for a state program that provides services for low-income students.
“Our children need support now more than ever, and this restorative justice approach provides that care,” he wrote.
The Richmond mayor’s letter also called for legislation that would allow for the automatic expungement of certain criminal convictions, writing that “Virginia is one of 10 states that does not offer record closure for adult convictions or automatic expungement for those who are eligible, making it one of the nation’s least forgiving states when it comes to providing second chances.”
“Studies have found that an expungement can produce significant economic, social, and public safety benefits for the individual and the community as a whole. Individuals who have had their record expunged see opportunities and income increase, which has shown to result in lower rates of recidivism,” he added.
Mayor Calls For Social Reforms
Stoney also called for increased funding for mental health services, particularly programs that combine public health services with police response for crisis intervention. He also suggested that lawmakers establish a statewide database to document misconduct by police officers and the sharing of records by various law enforcement agencies to ensure that problem officers are not rehired elsewhere after being fired or disciplined.
Stoney’s letter also included a request for legislation that would enact a statewide eviction diversion program modeled after one announced in Richmond in January of last year. Under that voluntary program, pro bono attorneys are used as in-court mediators to negotiate settlements between tenants and landlords, and financial assistance is provided to tenants who meet the qualifications of the program.
The eviction diversion program also offers financial literacy education to tenants, referrals to associated social services, and a payment plan to help ensure that rent is paid on time. Since the program began providing services in October 2019, 147 Richmond households have been able to avoid eviction.
Stoney wrote that the package of proposals, if enacted, would “reform public safety, increase equity, and assist Virginia localities in lifting up their most underserved communities.”
“Virginia should take full advantage of the opportunity and do whatever we can to support our kids,” he said.
Stoney’s bid to legalize marijuana goes further than the action taken by legislators earlier this year, when legislation to decriminalize cannabis was passed. Under that law, which went into effect in July, possession of up to one ounce of marijuana is now a civil violation carrying a fine of up to $25 on the first offense. Before that, possession of any amount of marijuana, even just one joint, could be punished with a fine of up to $500 and 30 days in jail.