Alex Scribner / VPM
Virginia’s Democrat-led lawmaker passed a bill legalizing the possession of small amounts of marijuana on Wednesday, making it the 16th state to take the step.
Under Virginia’s new law, adults 21 years of age and older can possess an ounce or less of marijuana beginning July 1, 2021, rather than January 1, 2024 – the date originally proposed by Government Ralph Northam. The Democrat later changed his mind, arguing that it would be a mistake to continue to punish people for having a drug that would soon be legal.
Lieutenant Government Justin Fairfax, also a Democrat, broke 20-20 votes in the Virginia Senate to pass the bill. No Republicans supported the measure.
House Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn hailed the plan.
“Today, with the governor’s changes, we will have made tremendous progress in completing the targeting of black and brown virgins through selective enforcement of marijuana bans this summer,” she said in a statement.
Republicans raised a number of objections to what they characterized as an unmanageable bill of nearly 300 pages. Several criticized measures that would give licensing preferences to people and groups who have been affected by the war on drugs and make it easier for workers in the industry to reconcile. Senate Majority Leader Tommy Norment also questioned Northam’s motives.
“We have a governor who wants to contribute to the resurrection of his legacy,” Norment said, referring to the discovery of a racist image in 2019 in Northam’s 1984 medical school yearbook.
The accelerated timeline puts Virginia cannabis consumers in an unusual situation. While it will be legal to grow up to four marijuana plants beginning July 1, it may be several years before the state begins licensing recreational marijuana dealers. And unlike other states, the law does not allow society’s existing medical pharmacies to immediately begin selling to all adults.
Jenn Michelle Pedini, CEO of Virginia NORML, called legalization “an incredible victory,” but said her group would continue to push to allow retail sales to begin faster.
“For the sake of public and consumer safety, Virginians 21 and older should be able to buy cannabis products in retail at the already operational pharmacies in 2021, not in 2024,” Pedini said in a statement. “Such a delay will only exacerbate the gap for stock applicants and stimulate illegal activity.”
Northam and other Democrats outlined the legalization of marijuana as a way to tackle the historic damage of the drug war. A state study found that black virgins were 3.5 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana charges compared to white people. These trends continued even after Virginia reduced the sanctions for possession to a $ 25 civil fine.
New York and New Jersey also focused on tackling these patterns when governors of those states signed laws to legalize recreational marijuana this year. Northam’s proposal allocates 30% of the funds to go to communities affected by the war on drugs, compared to 70% in New Jersey. A further 40% of Virginia’s revenue goes to early childhood education, while the remainder funds public health programs and substance abuse treatment.
These plans and much of the legislative framework of the bill are still preliminary; Virginia lawmakers will have to approve them again during their general meeting next year. Some criminal justice lawyers say lawmakers should also visit languages that create a penalty for driving with an “open container” of marijuana. In the absence of retail sales, some members of law enforcement say it is not clear what a container of marijuana will be.
The bill specifies a category of “social equity” applicants, such as individuals who have been charged with marijuana-related offenses, or who are graduates of historically black colleges and universities. These entrepreneurs get priority when the state grants the license.
Mike Thomas, a black hemp cultivator based in Richmond who served time in prison for marijuana possession, said these entrepreneurs deserved special attention. Thomas said he was looking forward to offering his own range of organic craft cannabis.
“Since the arrest was not the same for everyone, I do not think the business opportunities should be the same for everyone,” Thomas said.