Del. Lee Carter is calling on Virginia lawmakers to devote all future tax revenue from the sale of legalized cannabis products to reparations for Black and Indigenous Virginians and to establish a “Governor’s Commission on Reparations” to guide the process.
Last week, Gov. Ralph Northam announced his support for legalizing cannabis after a report by the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission (JLARC) projected that legalization could bring in up to $300 million in new state tax revenue annually. The report also found that Black Virginians have been arrested and convicted for marijuana offenses at much higher rates than white Virginians.
“Every single penny of tax revenue from legalized cannabis should go to reparations – that’s a moral commitment our history demands of us and a necessary first step in Virginia,” Carter, D-50th, said in a press statement Monday.
In an interview Monday, Carter said he isn’t aware of any other states that have taken similar steps to fund reparations with the tax revenue generated by legal marijuana sales but said he hopes Virginia “can set the model” for other states.
“If you look at a lot of the conversation around reparations, it boils down to, ‘Ok, where do we pull the money from?’ and that’s where it dissolves. We’ve got this opportunity where there’s this wave of impending action on cannabis legalization throughout the states, and at least at the state level, states can try to atone for their complicity in these crimes in a way that uses a new revenue source rather than devolving into the fight of, ‘Where do we pull the money from?’” Carter said.
Carter sponsored legislation in 2019 and 2020 to legalize marijuana in Virginia, but both times the bills were killed in General Assembly subcommittees. But he said he is confident legalization is on the horizon.
“I think cannabis products will be legalized here in Virginia. I think that it will happen relatively quickly. I don’t know if it will be this year, next year or the year following. But it’s definitely coming,” Carter said.
In his news release, Carter outlined what historical injustices against Black and Indigenous Virginians should be considered by a proposed Governor’s Commission on Reparations. They include: “slavery, genocide, the domestic terrorism of the Jim Crow-era, redlining and restrictive covenants in banking and housing, unconstitutional neglect of public schools, police brutality and mass incarceration [and] the destruction and displacement of Black communities through ‘urban renewal’ projects.”
Carter emphasized the need for parallel federal action on reparations, including passing H.R. 40, the Commission to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African Americans Act. The bill is co-sponsored by five members of Virginia’s congressional delegation, including Rep. Bobby Scott, D-3rd, Rep. Don McEachin, D-4th, Rep. Don Beyer, D-8th, Rep. Jennifer Wexton, D-10th, and Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-11th.
“The impending legalization of cannabis presents an opportunity for Virginia's government to begin making amends for its complicity and active participation in some of the most horrific human rights abuses in this nation's history,” Carter said in his release. “I urge all of my colleagues to join me in the commitment to using this revenue stream as the first of several dedicated to this purpose, and I hope that Virginia's action on reparations can spur the federal government to take its own action in the immediate future."
Carter is the only self-described socialist serving in the Virginia House of Delegates. He was elected to a second term in 2019 to represent the 50th House of Delegates district, which includes the City of Manassas and parts of Western Prince William County.
Carter is running for re-election this year and has also said he may join the already crowded field of candidates vying for the Democratic nomination to run for governor, but said Monday his decision is “still up in the air.”
“It depends on what I hear from other candidates,” Carter said. “If the issues that are important to people who are struggling are at the forefront with gubernatorial candidates, then there will be no need for me to run. It’s very much determined by the field.”
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