‘Cannabis Summit’ highlights Virginia’s shifting stance on pot

Virginia’s attorney general to host ‘Cannabis Summit.’ (AP Photo/Richard Vogel, File)

Signaling a shift in Virginia’s political stance on recreational marijuana use, Attorney General Mark Herring sent an invitation this week to state lawmakers for a “Cannabis Summit” to be held Dec. 11 in Richmond.

According to the invitation, the summit will include four panels of experts from around the country who will discuss the decriminalization of marijuana and pathways toward legalization.

“This upcoming General Assembly Session, policymakers will be considering legislation related to cannabis use in the Commonwealth,” Herring said in the invitation. “This summit is designed to better inform those discussions and offer perspectives from states that have implemented similar changes.”

Herring said the summit would feature policymakers and experts from other states that have already legalized or decriminalized pot.

“It provides space for our lawmakers to have those hard conversations and ask those questions and get the information they’re really hungry for,” said Jenn Michelle Pedini, executive director of Virginia NORML, which advocates for marijuana law reform.

“They’ll have an opportunity to talk to lawmakers one-on-one and hear what marijuana regulation has meant for other states,” Pedini said. “Virginia has been not only conservative but very thoughtful in its approach to marijuana policy.”

Herring has publicly called for the legalization of marijuana in the past, saying that Virginia should start decriminalizing possession of small amounts and eventually legalize the drug. He said criminal prosecutions are costly to state and local governments and disproportionately affect African Americans.

Gov. Ralph Northam has voiced support for decriminalizing possession of small amounts of marijuana.

The Republican-controlled General Assembly has killed past efforts to decriminalize marijuana. Things will likely change following elections earlier this month, when Democrats won enough seats to take control of the state Senate and House of Delegates.

“Now that there will be new members controlling committees, such bills are finally going to have the opportunity to advance to the floor for a vote,” Pedini said. “What the new majority has done is create a pathway for the passage of decriminalization.”

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