Attorney General Mark Herring to host ‘Cannabis Summit’ ahead of 2020 session

Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring. (Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury)
Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring. (Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury)

Attorney General Mark Herring has invited state lawmakers to a “Cannabis Summit” next month that will feature policymakers from states that have legalized or decriminalized marijuana and academics who study cannabis-related issues.

The Dec. 11 event hosted by a top Democratic official suggests cannabis reform will be a more serious topic in the 2020 legislative session than in years past. Virginia has authorized a limited medical cannabis program, but legislation to decriminalize or or legalize cannabis has gained no traction in Republican-controlled committees. In elections earlier this month, Democrats won enough seats to take control of the General Assembly for the first time in decades.

Herring, a candidate for governor in 2021, is hosting the event in conjunction with the newly formed Virginia Cannabis Caucus, a legislative group founded by Sen. Dave Marsden, D-Fairfax, and Del. Steve Heretick, D-Portsmouth.

Jenn Michelle Pedini, executive director of marijuana reform group Virginia NORML, called the summit “unprecedented.”

“The attorney general’s public support for advancing evidence-based cannabis policy, coupled with the recent formation of the Virginia Cannabis Caucus, set the stage for a robust and unprecedented exploration of real-world experiences with decriminalization, legalization and regulation in other states,” Pedini said.

An invitation Herring’s office sent to state legislators Tuesday morning said the summit will feature four expert panels on “decriminalization of marijuana, social equity, regulating CBD and hemp products, pathways towards legalization through legislative efforts and other topics that will better inform the upcoming legislative work.”

Herring and other cannabis reform supporters have speculated that decriminalization – reducing the penalty for possessing small amounts of marijuana from a criminal offense to a civil violation more akin to a traffic ticket- could pass in the legislative session that begins in January.

Multiple Democrats have said they’ll file bills to legalize marijuana, but Gov. Ralph Northam has only signaled support for decriminalization.