Above photo: Marc Piscotty/Getty Images.
On Wednesday, the state’s Democratic-controlled Legislature voted to approve Gov. Ralph Northam’s proposed amendments to a legalization bill. One such change was to legalize marijuana possession beginning July 1, 2020, rather than the initial date of Jan. 1, 2024. Though the bill will allow adults 21 and over to possess up to an ounce of marijuana, retail sales of cannabis will not begin until 2024. The legislation will also permit each household to grow no more than four marijuana plants beginning July 1. Public cannabis use will be prohibited.
“The time has come for our state to legalize marijuana,” House Majority Leader Charniele Herring said ahead of Wednesday’s vote. “The amendments ensure that while we’re doing the complicated work of standing up a commercial market, we aren’t delaying immediate reforms that will make our Commonwealth more equitable for all Virginians.”
Virginia’s lower chamber approved Northam’s suggestions 53-44 with two abstentions. Lt. Governor Justin Fairfax voted in favor of the amendment to break a 20-20 tie in the Virginia Senate, according to NPR. Northam is expected to sign the bill as soon as it lands on his desk.
Northam said his proposal to accelerate legalization was based on a 2020 Virginia study that concluded Black residents were more than three times as likely to be cited for simple marijuana possession. He also pointed out that the trend continued even after simple possession was “decriminalized” on July 1, 2020.
“Our Commonwealth is committed to legalizing marijuana in an equitable way,” Northam said in a statement last month. “Virginia will become the 16th state to legalize marijuana—and these changes will ensure we do it with a focus on public safety, public health, and social justice. I am grateful to the advocates and legislators for their dedicated work on this important issue …”