RICHMOND, Va. -- OAR of Richmond has played a monumental roll in Virginia’s criminal justice reform.
On January 3, 2020, Governor Ralph Northam chose the Scott’s Addition non-profit has a backdrop to announce his support for decriminalizing marijuana.
“Justice must be fair and equitable, and the punishment should fit the crime,” Northam told reporters at the time.
Fast forward nearly a year and a half later and marijuana will soon be legal for adults 21 years and older in the Commonwealth.
Virginia became the first Southern state to legalize marijuana after lawmakers voted Wednesday to approve Gov. Ralph Northam’s proposed changes to a bill to allow adults in Virginia to possess and cultivate small amounts starting in July.
Northam sent the bill back to lawmakers substantially changed from the version they sent him in February.
The amendments lawmakers agreed to Wednesday would accelerate the timeline of legalization by about three years.
“I think yesterday was a huge celebration,” said Sara Dimick, executive director of OAR of Richmond.
OAR stands for “Opportunity Alliance Reentry.” Dimick’s staff help their clients they call “reemerging citizens” who were convicted of crimes to get back on their feet.
“If you look at the war on drugs and who’s been incarcerated the most for those types of things is predominately Black men. That’s predominately the population we are serving,” she explained. “All of our clients are impacted and that’s why it’s so important for us to be involved in this conversation.”
Dimick believed hundreds of her clients will be impacted by the legalization of marijuana in Virginia. The hope is that previous charges could be removed or sealed, helping them transition easier into society.
Virginia NORML, a cannabis advocacy group, worked on the legislation that will allow adults to grow up to four marijuana plants at home.
“Just like with alcohol, tobacco, medicines or even dangerous household cleaners, the cannabis plants have to be reasonably out of access to those who are underage,” NORML Development Director Jenn Michelle Pedini, who also serves as the Executive Director of Virginia NORML, said.
According to the new law, the plants must be out of public view and tagged with the grower’s information.
“Their name, their driver's license, or state issued ID number and that the plant is in fact for personal use,” Pedini explained.
It will be years before legal retail sales follow legalized possession.
The legislation lays out a complex process of creating a new state agency to oversee the marijuana marketplace, with sales beginning in 2024.
Portions of the bill are still up for debate in 2022 and advocates hope retail sales will also be accelerated.
“Virginians really want access to retail adult cannabis sped up. They don’t want to wait until 2024 and frankly they don’t have to,” Pedini stated.
Chris, who didn’t want to use his last name, operates Happy Trees Agricultural Supply on Arthur Ashe Boulevard.
He currently grows hemp and sells the product in various forms in his Scott’s Addition shop. His team also grows plants native to Virginia.
Chris was eager to begin growing cannabis himself and offering tips for customers this Summer.
“Without access to safe, regulated and tested medicine people don’t really have a choice but to grow it themselves,” he explained. “I think it’s good to allow people to grow it at their house.”
Public consumption of marijuana will remain illegal in Virginia.