(CNS News) -- Virginia's Democratic governor, Ralph Northam, announced today that he plans to introduce legislation in January to legalize the use of marijuana in the Commonwealth, the first southern state to do so, even though use of the drug has been linked to mental illness and violence.
“It’s time to legalize marijuana in Virginia,” said Governor Northam in a Nov. 16 press release.
“Our Commonwealth has an opportunity to be the first state in the South to take this step, and we will lead with a focus on equity, public health, and public safety," he said. "I look forward to working with the General Assembly to get this right.”
The Northam administration is preparing to release a report on the adult-use of marijuana, in preparation for the first 2021 session of the Virginia General Assembly. Democrats hold majorities in the Virginia House and Senate.
In explaining his pro-pot views, Gov. Northam said legalization should address the following five principles:
- "Social equity, racial equity, and economic equity. Marijuana prohibition has historically been based in discrimination, and the impact of criminalization laws have disproportionately harmed minority communities as a result. A report of the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission (JLARC) issued today found that Black Virginians are arrested and convicted for marijuana use at more than three times the rate of white Virginians. Legislation should focus on undoing these harms by including initiatives such as social equity license programs, access to capital, community reinvestment, and sealing or expunging records of past marijuana-related convictions.
- "Public health. Legislation should include substance abuse prevention efforts in schools and communities.
- "Protections for young people. As a pediatrician, Governor Northam will require any legislation include protections for Virginia’s youth, including age limits, mandatory ID checks, and education campaigns.
- "Upholding the Virginia Indoor Clean Air Act. Legislation should be aligned with the Virginia Indoor Clean Air Act prohibiting indoor tobacco use, which Governor Northam championed as a state Senator.
- "Data collection. Legislation should ensure Virginia collects appropriate and ongoing information on safety, health, and equity."
In 2020, Northam decriminalized simple marijuana possession in Virginia.
In his 2018 book, Tell Your Children: The Truth About Marijuana, Mental Illness, and Violence, former New York Times reporter Alex Berenson documents that many of the major studies on marijuana show a link between heavy use of the drug and mental illness, psychosis, and violence.
As Berenson explained in a 2019 commentary for The Wall Street Journal, "As legalization spreads, more Americans are becoming heavy users of cannabis, despite its links to violence and mental illness...." There are over 8 million daily users of marijuana in the United States.
"And they are consuming cannabis that is far more potent than ever before, as measured by the amount of THC it contains," said Berenson. "THC, or delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, is the chemical responsible for the drug’s psychoactive effects. In the 1970s, most marijuana contained less than 2% THC. Today, marijuana routinely contains 20-25% THC...."
Berenson continued, "What is clear is that, in individual cases, marijuana can cause psychosis, and psychosis is a high risk factor for violence.... The most obvious way that cannabis fuels violence in psychotic people is through its tendency to cause paranoia. Even marijuana advocates acknowledge that the drug can cause paranoia; the risk is so obvious that users joke about it, and dispensaries advertise certain strains as less likely to do so."
"A 2012 paper in the Journal of Interpersonal Violence, examining a federal survey of more than 9,000 adolescents, found that marijuana use was associated with a doubling of domestic violence in the U.S.," reported Berenson. "A 2017 paper in the journal Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology, examining drivers of violence among 6,000 British and Chinese men, found that drug use was linked to a fivefold increase in violence, and the drug used was nearly always cannabis."
"20 years ago, the U.S. moved to encourage wider use of cannabis and opiates," said Berenson. "In both cases, we decided we could outsmart these drugs—enjoying their benefits without their costs. And in both cases, we were wrong. Opiates are riskier than cannabis, and the overdose deaths they cause are a more imminent crisis, so public and government attention have focused on them."
"Soon, the mental illness and violence that follow cannabis use also may be too widespread to ignore," he said.