Virginia’s Democratic-controlled Legislature handed a invoice legalizing the possession of small quantities of marijuana on Wednesday, making it the 16th state to take the step.
Underneath Virginia’s new regulation, adults ages 21 and over can possess an oz. or much less of marijuana starting on July 1, reasonably than Jan. 1, 2024. Gov. Ralph Northam, a Democrat, proposed shifting up the date, arguing it might be a mistake to proceed to penalize individuals for possessing a drug that may quickly be authorized.
Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax, additionally a Democrat, broke a 20-20 vote tie in Virginia’s Senate to move the invoice. No Republicans supported the measure.
Democratic Home of Delegates Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn hailed the plan.
“At present, with the Governor’s amendments, we may have made great progress in ending the focusing on of Black and brown Virginians by way of selective enforcement of marijuana prohibition by this summer season,” she mentioned in a press release.
Republicans voiced quite a lot of objections to what they characterised as an unwieldy, nearly 300-page bill. A number of criticized measures that may grant licensing preferences to people and groups who’ve been affected by the war on drugs and make it easier for workers in the industry to unionize. Senate Minority Chief Tommy Norment additionally questioned Northam’s motives.
“We’ve got a governor who needs to contribute to the resurrection of his legacy,” Norment mentioned, referring to the 2019 discovery of a racist photograph in Northam’s 1984 medical faculty yearbook.
The accelerated timeline units Virginia hashish customers in an uncommon predicament. Whereas it is going to be authorized to develop as much as 4 marijuana crops starting July 1, it may very well be a number of years earlier than the state begins licensing leisure marijuana retailers. And in contrast to different states, the regulation will not permit the commonwealth’s current medical dispensaries to start promoting to all adults instantly.
Jenn Michelle Pedini, government director of Virginia NORML, referred to as legalization “an unimaginable victory” however mentioned the group would proceed to push to permit retail gross sales to start sooner.
“Within the curiosity of public and shopper security, Virginians 21 and older ought to be capable to buy retail hashish merchandise on the already operational dispensaries in 2021, not in 2024,” Pedini mentioned in a press release. “Such a delay will solely exacerbate the divide for fairness candidates and embolden illicit exercise.”
Northam and different Democrats pitched marijuana legalization as a technique to handle the historic harms of the battle on medication. One state research discovered Black Virginians had been 3.5 occasions extra prone to be arrested on marijuana costs in contrast with white individuals. Those trends persisted even after Virginia lowered penalties for possession to a $25 civil high-quality.
New York and New Jersey additionally targeted on addressing these patterns when governors in these states signed legal guidelines to legalize leisure marijuana this 12 months. Northam’s proposal units apart 30% of funds to go to communities affected by the battle on medication, in contrast with 70% in New Jersey. One other 40% of Virginia’s income will go towards early childhood training, with the rest funding public well being applications and substance abuse therapy.
These plans, and far of the invoice’s regulatory framework, are nonetheless tentative; Virginia lawmakers should approve them once more throughout their basic session subsequent 12 months. Some felony justice advocates say lawmakers must also revisit language that creates a penalty for driving with an “open container” of marijuana. Within the absence of retail gross sales, some members of law enforcement mentioned it isn’t clear what a container of marijuana will probably be.
The invoice specifies a class of “social fairness” candidates, resembling individuals who’ve been charged with marijuana-related offenses or who graduated from traditionally Black faculties and universities. These entrepreneurs will probably be given desire when the state grants licensing.
Mike Thomas, a Black hemp cultivator based mostly in Richmond who served jail time for marijuana possession, mentioned these entrepreneurs deserved particular consideration. Thomas mentioned he seemed ahead to providing his personal line of natural, craft hashish.
“Being that the arrest charge wasn’t the identical for everybody, I do not assume the enterprise alternatives must be the identical for everybody,” Thomas mentioned.