Locked up for weed, locked out of a $100B industry
One group in Virginia says enough is enough when it comes to the criminal justice system, which has sent a disproportionate number of minorities to jail on marijuana charges.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia is urging lawmakers to abolish the marijuana prohibition effective July 1, 2021. In an opinion piece published late last year — and in a flurry of tweets — attorneys for the group are calling on Virginia lawmakers to remove all penalties for marijuana possession and automatically expunge conviction records for all crimes that no longer are illegal.
However, legislation making its way through the Virginia General Assembly delays the date of legal sales for adults to January 2024, but calls for the automatic expungement of marijuana criminal convictions in July.
While Black and brown Americans have been disproportionately affected by enforcement of marijuana laws, legalization could actually open more doors for minorities in the business world — if rolled out properly.
A national expert who has helped other states with the transition to legalizing marijuana says Virginia can open doors for minorities in the $100-billion industry.
Lewis Koski helped with a similar transition in Colorado that began in 2000.
“We have gone from what has been an illegal industry to a matter of what has become an essential industry in a matter of 10 to 15 years,” said Koski, who is based in Florida.
In 2000, Koski was the director of the Marijuana Enforcement Division in Colorado, as the state legalized the medical use of marijuana, and in 2010 when it legalized recreational use of weed.
With marijuana now legal in some form in most states, he is now the chief operating officer of Metrc, the nation’s leading governance and data tracking system for legal weed. Metrc tags and tracks plants while Koski offers commentary on legalization efforts across the country.
Koski says Virginia can learn from the mistakes made by other states by creating opportunities up front for those who were locked up because of marijuana but locked out of the legal trade.