RICHMOND – Virginia became the first of the states of the Old South, and the 16th state in the Union to legalize recreational cannabis Wednesday as lawmakers voted to approve Gov. Ralph Northam’s (pictured) bill that allows adults to possess and cultivate small amounts of the drug starting in July.
“The time has come for our state to legalize cannabis. 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,” House Majority Leader Charniele Herring said according to reports by the Associated Press.
Democratic House of Delegates Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn hailed the plan. “Today, with the Governor’s amendments, we will have made tremendous progress in ending the targeting of Black and brown Virginians through selective enforcement of marijuana prohibition by this summer,” she said in a statement.
Northam’s amendments cleared the House 53-44 with two abstentions during a one-day session. In the Senate, lawmakers deadlocked 20-20 and Democratic Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax broke the tie, voting to approve the changes. The final version of the legislation allows adults 21 and up to legally possess up to one ounce of cannabis without the intent to distribute beginning July 1. It also would allow the home cultivation of up to four cannabis plants per household beginning July 1. Public use of the drug will be prohibited.
It will be years before legal retail sales follow legalized possession. The bill lays out the complex process of creating a new state agency to oversee the cannabis marketplace, with sales beginning and regulations taking effect on Jan. 1, 2024.
Many parts of the bill dealing with the regulatory framework will have to be re-approved by lawmakers in 2021.