RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney sent a letter on Tuesday to Gov. Ralph Northam, House Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn and Senate Majority Leader Richard Saslaw, asking them to legalize marijuana during the General Assembly’s special session on Aug. 18.

The mayor said this would help increase equity and inclusion in the commonwealth.

“Not only do marijuana arrests comprise a majority of the total arrests in Virginia, but out of those arrests a disproportionate number are of Black people,” Stoney said in the letter. “Let’s not forget the negative impact an arrest and conviction can have on someone’s life, especially when it comes to employment and housing opportunities.”

In addition to legalizing marijuana Stoney’s letter calls for Virginia to:

  • Establish a tax system for the recreational use of marijuana and use the money for low-income students.
  • Allow automatic expungements for certain misdemeanors and nonviolent felony convictions.
  • Provide funding for mental health crisis alerts.
  • Establish a statewide law enforcement officer misconduct database.
  • Launch a statewide eviction diversion program.

During a press conference Tuesday afternoon, Stoney said he knows this upcoming session will focus on social justice.

Stoey said he would like to see funds from the legalization of marijuana being put towards the care of at-risk adults and public schools.

“Virginia should take full advantage of the opportunity and do whatever we can to support our kids,” Stoney said.

These actions, Stoney said, would allow the creation of a more equitable Commonwealth.

You can read the mayor’s letter in full below:

“These actions, for me, will allow us to create a more equitable Commonwealth,” Stoney said about the letter.

Earlier this year, the General Assembly decriminalized marijuana, removing penalties or jail or prison time. Under legalization, Stoney is asking that recreational use of the drug be taxed and that money go to a program for low-income students. 

“Since we’re at decriminalization, why not use the revenue of legalizing marijuana and allow for that new revenue to go into supporting our children?” he said. 

Colton Grace, communications director for Smart Approaches to Marijuana, an Alexandria-based organization against legalizing the drug, said it would be a bad idea. The organization is in support of decriminalization but says studies show legalization increases the risk of addiction and other mental health problems. 

“We shouldn’t be commercializing marijuana where we incentivize an industry to make profit off of more and more addictive substances,” Grace said. 

Mayor Stoney also said marijuana infractions make up the majority of arrests in Virginia and that Black people are disproportionately affected.

“The issue is those arrest disparities continue in other states that have legalized,” Grace argued. 

He also said states often overestimate how much revenue can come from legally taxing marijuana and that the commercialization will increase substance abuse in the at-risk communities it aims to help. 

The special session starts Tuesday, Aug. 18.