RICHMOND, VA — The Democrat-controlled Virginia General Assembly voted Wednesday to accept Gov. Ralph Northam’s proposed changes to a marijuana legalization bill that will allow limited possession and cultivation of the plant starting in July of this year.
It will be legal to possess one ounce, and grow four plants, on July 1. But retail stores will not open until 2024. Time to grow your own?
Previously, the Legislature had voted to legalize cannabis—but not until 2024.
Northam sent the bill back to lawmakers substantially changed from the version they sent him February. The amendments lawmakers agreed to Wednesday would accelerate the timeline of legalization by about three years, a move that’s been cheered by racial justice advocates.
“The time has come for our state to legalize marijuana. The amendments ensure that while we’re doing the complicated work of standing up a commercial market, we aren’t delaying immediate reforms that will make our Commonwealth more equitable for all Virginians,” House Majority Leader Charniele Herring said in urging her colleagues to vote for the governor’s changes.
Opponents predict ‘train wreck’
Northam’s amendments cleared the House 53-44 with two abstentions. The Senate later deadlocked 20-20 and Democratic Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax broke the tie, voting to approve them.
Republicans, who overwhelmingly opposed the bill when it initially went through the General Assembly, railed against the latest version.
GOP Del. Chris Head called the bill “a train wreck.”
“The hard-fought compromise that barely made it out of this chamber and over to the Senate has just been discarded. And why is that? It’s because some activists want marijuana legalized and they want it legalized now, consequences be damned,” he said.
Legal on July 1: One ounce and four plants per household
The governor’s amendments would allow adults 21 and up to legally possess up to one ounce (28.3 grams) of cannabis without the intent to distribute beginning July 1. They would also allow the home cultivation of up to four plants per household beginning July 1.
It will be years before legal retail sales follow. The bill lays out the complex process of creating a new state agency to oversee the marijuana marketplace, with sales beginning and regulations going into effect on Jan. 1, 2024.
Want it before 2024? Gotta grow your own
During the legislative session, the Senate sought to legalize simple possession beginning in July, but House Democrats initially argued that legalization without a legal market for marijuana could promote the growth of the black market. The bill as passed in July would not have legalized simple possession until 2024.
Herring said Wednesday that home growth would give Virginians a way to legally acquire cannabis while the retail market is being put in place.