Virginia governor signs bill legalizing marijuana possession

Virginia governor signs bill legalizing marijuana possession
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Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) on Wednesday signed a bill legalizing marijuana possession.

The bill makes it legal for adults age 21 or older to possess a maximum of one ounce of marijuana and allows a household to grow up to four marijuana plants starting on July 1, the Associated Press reported.

The distribution of marijuana is still illegal and its use is not allowed in public.

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Legal retail sales of the drug will not begin until 2024 and the state has to come up with a new agency to regulate its sales.

Marijuana possession was not supposed to be legal until 2024, but Northam pushed for the timeline to be moved up in March to address the disparate impact of drug laws on people of color and the Senate approved the new timeline in early April.

Many Republicans opposed the bill and even some Democrats in the Virginia state House were not thrilled with the timeline change.

House Democrats said that if simple possession began legal without a legal market that the black market for the drug could grow, AP noted.

However, Northam’s amendment to up the timeline was passed in a 53 to 44 vote in the House on Wednesday.

Virginia is the first state in the South to legalize marijuana, which Northam says leads to "building a more equitable and just Virginia and reforming our criminal justice system to make it more fair."

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” as white people in the state.