(The Center Square) — Making recreational marijuana legal in Virginia could create up to 18,000 jobs and generate up to $308 million in annual tax revenue, depending on the tax rate.
A Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission (JLARC) report said a legal marijuana market, when fully implemented, would create between 11,000 and 18,000 jobs, including cultivators, technicians, trimmers and sellers.
The jobs likely would be concentrated in Virginia’s most populous areas, and the median wage of these jobs likely would be less than the state’s median wage.
Tax revenue in a legal market would depend on the tax rate that's established and the demand in the legal market. The JLARC report estimated revenue could reach between $154 million and $308 million by year five of legalization.
Virginia likely would issue between 100 and 800 cultivation licenses, between 30 and 150 processing or distribution licenses and between 200 and 600 retail licenses, depending on the demand for legal marijuana, according to the report.
Revenue generated through a marijuana tax has been used for a variety of programs in states that already have legal marijuana, including public education, mental health and drug abuse prevention services, and dropout and bullying prevention programs, said Olivia Naugle, a legislative analyst for the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP).
“MPP strongly urges that states invest a substantial portion of cannabis tax revenue in communities that have been disproportionately impacted by marijuana prohibition and the broader war on drugs,” Naugle told The Center Square. “In Illinois, 25% of cannabis tax revenue goes to the Restore, Reinvest and Renew Program, which funds grants for violence prevention, re-entry, youth development, economic development, and civil legal aid services in areas with high rates of gun violence, child poverty, unemployment and incarceration.”
Naugle said a legal market would reduce marijuana-related arrests, improve health and safety outcomes for consumers by replacing an illicit market with a regulated system, create a source of revenue and jobs and repair decades of harm caused by prohibition.
Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam said this week he will introduce and support legislation to legalize marijuana.
“It is great news that Governor Northam has embraced legalization,” Naugle said. “We hope that he and the General Assembly will pass a thoughtful and equitable cannabis law next year.”
Neither the House Democratic Caucus nor the Senate Democratic Caucus have endorsed legalizing recreational marijuana.
"The study the legislature requested this past session was presented yesterday and proposed a wide range of recommendations should the Commonwealth move in this direction,” House Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn, D-Fairfax, said in a statement. “We will take the time to review the study, listen to our constituents and stakeholders, and decide as a legislature how best to move forward in 2021. I appreciate the Governor expressing his views on the topic and will continue to engage in discussions with him and his administration as part of our legislative process."
The Senate Democratic Caucus declined to comment, but some senators advocated legalization on social media.
“Legalization in Virginia must redress past disproportionality in marijuana enforcement and ensure Black/Brown Virginians have an opportunity to benefit from the new commercial market,” Sen. Jennifer McClellan, D-Richmond, tweeted. “I will work to ensure these social equity components are enacted.”
Republicans generally oppose legalizing marijuana.
Northam signed legislation earlier this year that decriminalized simple possession of marijuana, which means Virginians face civil fines instead of criminal charges.