The Virginia General Assembly gave final approval to a bill legalizing possession of marijuana and limited home growth in the Commonwealth of Virginia starting July 1, 2021. This came three years sooner than anticipated.
The race to approve this bill was won when Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax (D) broke a 20-20 tie in the Senate during Wednesday's meeting discussing Gov. Northam's budget and bill amendments. It was passed following a last-minute push to win over a few votes in the Senate.
Virginia is now the first state in the South to approve recreational use of marijuana and the 16th state overall.
Lawmakers are working on creating a framework for business licensing to own and use marijuana. Last week, Gov. Northam revived previous efforts to remove the $25 penalty for owning marijuana this summer.
“This is a monumental step to address racial disparities in our criminal justice system and build an equitable, inclusive future for our Commonwealth,” Gov. Northam stated in a recent Twitter post.
The bill will allow Virginians to grow up to four pots per household. Virginians must label their plants, keep them out of public view and out of range of anyone under the age of 21.
Once the new law goes into effect, Virginians are still prohibited from smoking in public and in a vehicle. Penalties will remain for minors in use and possession on school property.
Gov. Northam recently proposed a campaign to train police officers on identifying marijuana and its uses. However, Republicans, such as Sen. Bryce Reeves, believe that the new timeline does not give law enforcement enough time to prepare.
“There is a right way and a wrong way to do this. We are doing this the wrong way by trying to rush another bill with more than 50,000 substantial changes,” Reeves said.
The bill also calls for the expungement of past misdemeanor marijiuana convictions to begin as soon as possible, giving the state flexibility to move forward as soon as system updates are complete.
The Cannabis Control Authority is now allowed to revoke a company’s business license if they interfere with union organizing efforts, fail to pay wages as defined by the U.S. Department of Labor, or classify more than 10% of employees as independent contractors.
Supporters for legalization argue that legalizing marijuana will eliminate the harms of marijuana prohibition: the hundreds of thousands of arrests around the country, racial disparities and the billions of dollars that flow into the black market. On the other hand, opposers believe that legalization will lead to the creation of major marijuana industries and irresponsible use.
Gov. Northam and other Democrats believe that legalization will help address the historic harms of the war on drugs and decrease the relationship between ethnicity and criminalization. The bill incorporates a category of “social equity” to grant preference to minorities for grant licensing.