Story at a glance
- The amended bill passed through the Virginia state legislature by narrow margins.
- The timeline to set up public sale could be years.
- Democratic state lawmakers praised the bill as a necessary reform to remedy inequities.
Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) signed a bill Wednesday that makes Virginia the first southern state to legalize marijuana.
The amended bill passed through the Virginia state legislature by narrow margins, which included a tie-breaking vote in the state senate from Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax, the Associated Press (AP) reported. The bill permits adults over 21 to personally possess up to an ounce of the drug if there is no intent to sell the substance. Beginning July 1, households can legally grow up to four plants for their own use.
“The time has come for our state to legalize marijuana. 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,” said House Majority Leader Charniele Herring.
But the timeline to set up public sale could be years, with the bill noting the establishment of a state agency to oversee a marketplace with sales beginning in 2024, according to AP.
Democratic state lawmakers praised the bill as a necessary reform to remedy inequities and warned against viewing the bill as a public license for abuse.
“This is not going to generate some ganjafest at Jiffy Lube pavilion out in the parking lot, because that is smoking in public. Just like you can’t drink in public, you can’t smoke in public under this,” Democratic Sen. Scott Surovell said.
Yet Republican lawmakers viewed the bill’s passage as a partisan move made by a few of their progressive colleagues.
“The hard-fought compromise that barely made it out of this chamber and over to the Senate has just been discarded. And why is that? It’s because some activists want marijuana legalized and they want it legalized now, consequences be damned,” said Republican Del. Chris Head.
The marijuana bill was one among a slew of decisions made in the state house Wednesday. Northam said in a statement the year’s legislative session was “one of the most consequential policy-reforming periods in modern Virginia history.”
“As this historic session comes to an end, I am heartened by all that we have done together to advance our priorities and make Virginia stronger, fairer, and more equitable,” Northam said.