Virginians 21 and older will be able to possess one ounce of marijuana and grow up to four plants per household starting July 1 after the General Assembly passed Gov. Ralph Northam’s amendments to speed up the legalization of simple possession of marijuana.
The votes from the House and the Senate came Wednesday with the Senate voting 20-20 and the House voting 53 to 44. Two members of the House abstained.
Representing portions of Halifax County, Senator Frank Ruff and Senator Bill Stanley voted against the measure. Delegate James Edmunds also voted against the measure.
Following Northam’s signing of the bill, he said, “We made history as the first state in the South to legalize the simple possession of marijuana. I am pleased that the General Assembly accepted my proposal to make this change on July 1, 2021 nearly three years earlier than planned. Marijuana laws were explicitly designed to target communities of color, and Black Virginians are disproportionately likely to be stopped, charged, and convicted. Today, Virginia took a critical step to right these wrongs and restore justice to those harmed by decades of over-criminalization.”
The bill also “creates the Virginia Cannabis Control Authority (the Authority), the Cannabis Oversight Commission, the Cannabis Public Health Advisory Council, the Cannabis Equity Reinvestment Board and Fund, and the Virginia Cannabis Equity Business Loan Program and Fund and establishes a regulatory and licensing structure for the cultivation, manufacture, wholesale and retail sale of retail marijuana and retail marijuana products, to be administered by the Authority.
The bill “contains social equity provisions that, among other things, provide support and resources to persons and communities that have been historically and disproportionately affected by drug enforcement.”
The bill has “staggered effective dates, and numerous provisions of the bill are subject to reenactment by the 2022 Session of the General Assembly.”
Prior to this act, Northam had previously decriminalized possession of marijuana making it a civil offense subject to a minimal fine.
Since then, he had been advocating for the legalization of simple possession of marijuana.
“Our Commonwealth is committed to legalizing marijuana in an equitable way,” Northam previously said. “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. 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.”
A report of the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission (JLARC) issued in November 2020 found that Black Virginians were more than three times as likely to be arrested for simple possession of marijuana.
Data from Virginia courts show that trend has continued since the simple possession of marijuana was decriminalized, punishable with a $25 civil fine, on July 1, 2020.
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.