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Virginia governor proposes expediting marijuana legalization

Virginia governor proposes expediting marijuana legalization
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Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) on Wednesday proposed legalizing simple possession of marijuana this July, years before initially planned.

The proposed change comes weeks after lawmakers in the state passed legislation to legalize recreational marijuana in 2024.

In an announcement detailing the proposed change, Northam’s office cited a report issued by the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission (JLARC) late last year that found Black Virginians “were more than three times as likely to be arrested for simple possession of marijuana.”

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The office said the trend has persisted even after the state decriminalized marijuana last year, making simple possession of the drug punishable with a fine of up to $25.

“Governor Northam said this fact drove his proposal to advance legalization by three years, and that he remains committed to working with legislators and advocates to repair past harm,” the office said.

Northam said in a statement on Wednesday that the state is “committed to legalizing marijuana in an equitable way.” 

 “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,” he said. “I am grateful to the advocates and legislators for their dedicated work on this important issue, and I look forward to this legislation passing next month.”

Other legislative changes proposed by Northam included expediting the sealing and expungements of criminal records on marijuana to commence once “state agencies are able to do so and simplify the criteria for when records can be sealed,” his office said.

He also proposed changes that would allow households to grow marijuana starting July 1, the same day he proposed simple possession be legalized.

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State Del. Lamont Bagby (D), who also chairs the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus, said he is “pleased with the improvements the governor has proposed."

“We are doing everything possible to repair and redress the harm done to communities of color most impacted by marijuana criminalization—the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus stands in support of the governor’s amendments because justice must not be delayed,” he added.

“Virginia’s communities of color deserve equity—and that means taking action now to end the disproportionate fines, arrests, and convictions of marijuana offenses,” Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax (D) also said in a statement.

“I am proud of the work to improve this bill for all of the people we serve, and I look forward to this legislation becoming law,” he added.