Social equity laws have become a standard in the cannabis industry. However, the expectation is not yet viewed as a universal necessity, as seen between the differing opinions of politicians in Virginia.
As of July 1, Virginia’s recreational cannabis law officially launched, although it won’t be fully implemented until 2024. The state’s official website on cannabis notes that the law will prioritize social equity, as well as public health and safety, as it begins to build up its cannabis program. However, there’s a war still being waged between Republican and Democratic assembly members regarding the reservation of social equity licenses for local Black Americans who qualify.
According to Wavy.com, the criteria includes three major parts. First, in order to qualify, applicants must have graduated from a “historically black” college. Second, the applicant must live in an area that was negatively affected or targeted by police in regards to cannabis convictions and arrests. Third, the individual has been convicted of a cannabis crime, or are related to someone who was convicted. Some Republican politicians stated issues with these criteria prior to the bill becoming law, however because the Virginia General Assembly is predominantly Democratic, the bill became law.
Many representatives such as Delegate Glenn Davis has been very vocal about his issues with these allowances. “It’s insanity run amuck…There will be set aside licenses for social purposes…Do I have a problem with them saying ‘Because you broke the law, I’m going to give you a special license’? Heck yeah,” he told Wavy.com. “What you’re saying if something is illegal, and you don’t agree with it, break the law because if it became legal you go to the front of the line to benefit from it. How asinine is that?”
Social Equity is Necessary Across the U.S.
The ACLU released a report called “A Tale of Two Countries: Racially Targeted Arrests in the Era of Marijuana Reform,” which found that Black Americans were 3.4 times more likely to be arrested for cannabis crimes in comparison to White people.
There are just as many in support cannabis social equity laws throughout the country, but especially those in Virginia. “People of color as a whole should benefit from this legislation because of the war on drugs,” said Antonio Dowe Norfolk, Virginia concert producer. “I mean, come on. It’s 2021. The War on Drugs has been the weirdest lie and fable for so long.”
Dowe doesn’t even qualify for a social equity license himself, but he’s hoping that between now and 2024 when the program launches, there might be some changes. “There are still some of us who do not fit those criteria, but should still benefit from social equity licenses,” he said.
The law was written to give individuals like Virginia native Roger T. Davis, who was arrested in 1974 for possession of three ounces of cannabis and served many years in prison, a chance to thrive. Dubbed the “marijuana martyr,” he represents countless Black Americans who were disproportionately affected by archaic drug laws. “That martyr? That’s who I am,” Davis told The Roanoke Times. “I believe that every person on the face of the earth should be allowed to enjoy God’s herb.”
“Black people have to have an opportunity,” he continued. “It should be equal and equitable to everyone. And if it’s not, what do I say to that? Get your knee off of my neck. Give us the same opportunity to come up. Hell, we’re 400 years behind.”
Virginia’s recent law allows for the possession of up to one ounce of cannabis, and the cultivation of up to four plants for a single household. Possession that exceeds one ounce merely nets a $25 fine (although a pound or more is considered to be a felony, which could result in up to 10 years prison time and a $250,000 fine).