Cannabis Legalization Advances In The Virginia Legislature

The effort to legalize marijuana in Virginia is steadily advancing through the right channels.
Cannabis Legalization Advances In The Virginia Legislature

For legalization advocates in Virginia, this could prove to be a decisive week.

With support at the highest levels of the state government—not to mention among voters in the commonwealth—a bill to lift pot prohibition in Virginia will reportedly be brought to its first votes in the legislature in the coming days.

According to the Virginia Mercury, lawmakers in both chambers have been making tweaks to a bill that could make legalization a reality, including one change that bumped “the start of retail sales to Jan. 1, 2024, a full year later than the 2023 date proposed by Gov. Ralph Northam.”

The delayed start date, the Mercury reports, is intended to “give the state time to establish an independent agency to oversee marijuana businesses, an idea lawmakers said they favored over Northam’s proposal to delegate the responsibility to the Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control Authority, which, in addition to running the state’s liquor stores, also functions as a law enforcement agency.”

But that timetable isn’t sitting quite right with some lawmakers, including state Sen. Jennifer McClellan, a Democrat from Richmond.

“If we know we’re going down the road of legalizing, it seems to me the repeal of simple possession at a minimum should take effect July 1 of this year,” McClellan said during a hearing recently, as quoted by the Mercury. “Otherwise all we’re doing is setting up a situation where people are going to continue paying civil fines for something that’s going to be completely legal eventually.

Legislators have sprung to action since Northam made it clear that he wanted a marijuana legalization bill on his desk this year. In his State of the State address last month, the Democratic governor expressed his desire to have marijuana available for purchase by adults aged 21 and older by the first day of 2023. Northam’s office said that, although sales would begin then, the law itself would be implemented within a “timeline of roughly 20 to 22 months after the bill is passed.” Additionally, Northam called for the bill to expunge “prior marijuana convictions, reinvests money in over-policed communities, and promotes diverse ownership in the industry.”

The proposal gave depth to a position that Northam had revealed only a couple months prior. In November of last year, Northam announced his support for legalization, saying Virginia had a chance to make history.

“Our Commonwealth has an opportunity to be the first state in the South to take this step, and we will lead with a focus on equity, public health, and public safety. I look forward to working with the General Assembly to get this right,” Northam said at the time.

Now, Virginia lawmakers are working against the clock. NORML reports that two legalization measures filed on Northam’s behalf in both the Senate and House must “receive their third and final floor votes” by this Friday in order to make it out of each chamber. The combined legislation, according to NORML, “legalizes the responsible use and personal cultivation of cannabis by adults ages 21 and older, provides for the automatic expungement process of certain marijuana-related offenses, and establishes a regulatory framework for commercial cannabis production, manufacturing, testing, and retail sales.”

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