Gov. Ralph Northam announced this morning a proposal to move up the legalization of marijuana in Virginia to this summer.
A legalization bill championed by state Sen. Adam Ebbin (D), who represents part of Arlington, passed the General Assembly earlier this year. But it called for legalization of recreational marijuana possession and cultivation on Jan. 1, 2024.
Northam is sending the bill back to the state legislature to consider a July 1, 2021 implementation.
“Governor Ralph Northam today proposed moving up the legalization of simple possession of marijuana to July 1, 2021, nearly three years sooner than previously planned,” said a press release. “The Governor also announced he is proposing changes that advance public health protections, set clear expectations for labor protections in the cannabis industry, and begin to seal criminal records [of past marijuana convictions] immediately.”
Ebbin told news outlets he thinks the sped-up timeline will be approved.
“My colleagues and I worked closely with Governor Northam to ensure this bill prioritizes public health and social equity,” Ebbin said in a press release from the governor’s office. “I look forward to adopting these amendments and passing this important legislation into law.”
While small-scale marijuana possession was decriminalized in Virginia last year, Northam said those facing fines under the new statute are disproportionately Black.
“Virginia’s communities of color deserve equity — and that means taking action now to end the disproportionate fines, arrests, and convictions of marijuana offenses,” Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax said in the press release.
The bill allows people 21 and over to “legally possess up to one ounce of cannabis, without intent to distribute,” and will also “allow households to grow up to four plants… out of sight from public view, and out of range of individuals under the age of 21.”
Smoking marijuana while driving and possession of it on school grounds will remain illegal.
Previous ARLnow polls revealed strong local support for marijuana decriminalization. When Ebbin proposed it in 2016, nearly 80% of poll respondents said they supported decriminalization. In 2019, when then-candidate Parisa Dehghani-Tafti pledged not to prosecute simple marijuana possession charges as Commonwealth’s Attorney, more than 75% of poll respondents said they supported that.
Legalization obviously goes beyond decriminalization, however, and there are some who believe the risks associated with marijuana use call for something less than full legalization. There are also some who think Virginia should take more time to legalize weed, in order to allow a more orderly establishment of a statewide marijuana industry.
Still, Northam’s changes to the legalization bill reportedly have support on both sides of the aisle and are expected to pass