Virginia lawmakers officially legalize cannabis

In a bold move that many did not see coming from the South, Virginia officially adopted legal recreational cannabis.

The law was passed thanks to the support of the democratic governor and the legislature. Now small amounts of cannabis are officially legalized in the state. Individuals 21 and over can ingest an ounce or less of cannabis starting July 1. Originally, the state had been looking for an end to the ban in 2024, but Governor Ralph Northam found it hypocritical and problematic to continue criminalizing something that was legal in the future.

Victory over the opposition in Virginia

Unlike many states, Virginia did not receive bipartisan support for this measure. In 2019, an attempt to legalize and decriminalize cannabis failed in the state. That year Lt. However, Governor Justin Fairfax breaking a 20:20 tie as Democrats and Republicans in the Virginia Senate were split down the middle.

Republicans claimed the bill was too long and 300 pages long, and some feared marginalized people, more affected by the war on drugs than others, would receive the license preference. Others felt this was just a step in making the governor look good or feared the bill would provide a language that would allow cannabis workers to unite in union organizations. Despite all these objections, however, it passed a hairline.

“With the governor’s amendments today, we have made tremendous strides in ending the fight against black and brown Virginians by selectively enforcing the marijuana ban by the summer,” said Eileen Filler-Corn, spokeswoman for the Democratic House of Representatives, of the new law .

Now that Virginia is speeding up legalization, cannabis users look forward to growing up to four plants and owning up to an ounce from July. However, they may have to wait a while for the state to push licensing of recreational dealers and breeders. Currently, the only legal pharmacies in Virginia are all still medical.

“In the interests of the safety of the public and consumers, Virginians 21 and older should be able to purchase cannabis products in retail stores in 2021, rather than in pharmacies already in operation in 2024,” said Jenn Michelle Pedini, Virginia chief executive officer NORML. “Such a delay will only widen the gap between applicants for equity and encourage illegal activity.”

Northam and his supporters hope that legalizing cannabis can help stop the damage the war on drugs is doing to color communities. Black Virginians are 3.5 times more likely to be arrested on cannabis charges than white residents, according to NPR. This is still true now, as cannabis users only receive a fine instead of jail time.

Some proponents also believe that lawmakers need to reconsider the part of the bill that penalizes open container driving because there are currently no recreational sales in the state and cannabis dispensaries are not yet legal. Therefore, there is no clear regulation of what a closed or an open container looks like.

When the industry finally starts licensing, social justice applicants will be in luck, as anyone who has been charged with cannabis offenses or graduated from historically black colleges will get the first points when they get a license to run a recreational pharmacy receives.

As of this writing, Virginia made history as the first southern state to fully legalize cannabis.

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