On November 7, 2017, Virginia voters will select a new governor, and all 100 seats in its House of Delegates will be on the ballot. The primary election will take place on June 13, 2017.

This year’s election will be key to whether Virginia continues to lag behind the 29 states that allow medical marijuana and the 21 that have legalized or decriminalized cannabis or whether it gets with the times and passes sensible reforms.

The gubernatorial race has been heating up for weeks, and MPP reached out to candidates to ask for their views on marijuana policies. We also reviewed any public statements they made on this critical issue. We’ve compiled a voter guide on the gubernatorial candidates (below) to help you stay informed before heading to the polls. If you are not sure where to cast your ballot, you can find out here.

You may want to also consider getting more involved, such as by volunteering with a campaign or making a contribution. Let the candidate know if you were moved to support them due to their support for humane marijuana policies.

If you learn more about a candidate’s views, please let us know by emailing [email protected]. We are happy to update this guide should we receive any additional responses. We also encourage you to reach out to candidates for your district in the House of Delegates to find out where they stand on marijuana policy reform.

We asked candidates for governor for their views on three marijuana policy topics:

  1. whether to reduce the penalty for possession of small amounts of marijuana to a reasonable civil fine;
  2. whether Virginia should establish a program allowing seriously ill patients with qualifying conditions to consume medical marijuana with the permission of their physicians; and
  3. whether they support creating a reasonable system for taxing and regulating marijuana production and sales for legal use by adults 21 years of age and older in Virginia.

We also asked if there were any other comments they would like to share with voters regarding their views on this matter.

See below for the candidates’ stances and our letter grades for their positions.


Democratic candidates for governor:

Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam

Grade: B

Supports decriminalization and the establishment of a comprehensive medical marijuana program. His position on adult-use is unknown, and he did not reply to our candidate survey.


Tom Perriello

Grade: A-

Supports decriminalization, the establishment of a comprehensive medical marijuana program, and “eventually” allowing responsible adults age 21 and older to consume cannabis. His comments on our survey are below.

1. If elected, will you support legislation to reduce the penalty for possession of small amounts of marijuana to a reasonable civil fine?

I believe the decades old war on drugs has failed. We have to fix our broken criminal justice system and put a stop to the school-to-prison pipeline and pattern of ruining lives over non-violent marijuana possession. A big part of doing this involves reforming our outdated and often racially biased drug laws. Current law imposes punishments on marijuana possession that include jail time, costly fines, suspension of driver’s licenses, and other indirect impacts such as loss of public housing assistance, federal school loans, and parental rights. With these high costs and failed results in mind, we should at least decriminalize small amounts of marijuana. From a fiscal standpoint, we know that Virginia is spending far too much money on prosecuting and imprisoning people in possession of small amounts of marijuana. We need to focus our resources as a Commonwealth on transforming a school to prison pipeline into a school to workforce pathway.

2. If elected, will you support establishing a program to allow seriously ill patients with qualifying conditions to consume medical marijuana with the permission of their physician?

Twenty-eight states* and the District of Columbia have approved medical marijuana programs. I believe Virginia must join the majority of jurisdictions in the U.S. and also establish a medical marijuana program. The evidence for constructive medical use of marijuana is firmly established, and of increasing relevance amidst the opioid epidemic as an alternative pain treatment with far fewer negative consequences. I also believe that access to medical marijuana should not be limited to only seriously ill patients with qualifying conditions. Studies are beginning to show that medical marijuana can help to bring down use of opioids and other medications. Marijuana has been shown to alleviate symptoms of serious medical conditions and to work as an effective alternative to synthetic painkillers. With so many people in our commonwealth suffering from opioid addiction, we must use all the tools at our disposal to address this crisis. Finally, I would like to see more research on the medical benefits and costs of marijuana. Although there are federal laws that limit this work, as governor I will do all I can to encourage Virginia’s research facilities conduct such research.

* MPP notes that since Candidate Perriello filled out this survey, West Virginia enacted a medical marijuana program bringing the number of states to twenty-nine.

3. If elected, will you support creating a reasonable system for taxing and regulating marijuana production and sales for legal use by adults 21 and older in Virginia?

Eventually, yes.

I believe there is an opportunity to tax and regulate marijuana production and sales for adults in Virginia in much the same way that we currently treat alcohol. I believe Virginia should first introduce medical marijuana, which will allow the Commonwealth to build broader bi-partisan support and launch a comprehensive plan for recreational legalization. In addition, I believe that the introduction of medical marijuana is a more pressing policy need, due to the opioid crisis that we face.

A comprehensive approach to legalization should include establishing a regulatory agency capable of handling the licensing responsibilities that would come from increased demand for a legal recreational product, planning for a public awareness campaign on drugged driving and substance abuse, and making the necessary changes to our criminal code for decriminalization of possession of small amounts. Staggering the legalization of marijuana to come after a period where a medical marijuana program is rolled out will permit our state and local tax departments to design an effective mechanism for marijuana tax collection. A staggered process for legalization will also allow for the accreditation of labs that can test for mold, pesticides, and tetrahydrocannabinol potency, as well as more time for the development of a breathalyzer-like test for drugged driving. I hope that the plans of the Virginia State Crime Commission to study whether marijuana should be decriminalized will come to a similar conclusion.

We should also continue to learn lessons from experiments in other states in this regard. Overall, places like Colorado have over-performed in terms of public revenues produced and had fewer of the negative consequences predicts by critics. However, legitimate concerns have been raised such as concerns about spikes in levels of potency and structural barriers against minority ownership over new businesses in this new sector. Every effort should be made to ensure any move in the direction of regulate and tax focuses on how to support broad-based economic growth at a small business level, protected from the tendency towards consolidation within the pharmaceutical sector.

4. Any other comments you would like to share?

As governor, my proposals on decriminalization, implementation of a medical marijuana program, and, if it happens, taxation and regulation of recreational marijuana will be based on science, good policy, and compassion. I believe that marijuana reform can move Virginia forward in reducing racial inequality in our criminal justice system, providing relief to patients and to those suffering from addiction, and in providing revenue for our commonwealth’s priorities. At the same, we must move forward with marijuana reform in a responsible fashion, and this means developing policies to protect our youth, prevent substance abuse, and enhance public safety.


Republican candidates for governor:

Ed Gillespie

Grade: D

Opposes decriminalization and adult-use, and his position on medical marijuana is unknown. He did not reply to our survey.


Corey Stewart

Grade: B

Shared with an MPP staffer that he supports decriminalization and medical marijuana. His position on adult-use is unknown. He did not reply to our survey.


State Sen. Frank Wagner

Grade: B

Shared with an MPP staffer that he supports decriminalization and medical marijuana. His position on adult-use is unknown. He did not reply to our survey.


Libertarian candidate for governor:

Cliff Hyra

Grade: A+

Supports decriminalization, the establishment of a medical marijuana program, and allowing responsible adults age 21 and older to consume cannabis. He replied to our candidate survey writing:

“A medical marijuana program should be unnecessary because I support full legalization, however I would support a medical marijuana program as a second-best alternative.” And, “Virginia must end its unjust and counterproductive prohibition on marijuana.”