Virginia legislators voted to legalize cannabis in the state on February 5. This comes after Gov. Ralph Northam and top lawmakers unveiled their legalization proposals in January. Gov. Northam vocally supported legalization last year, stating that he wanted Virginia to become the first state in the South to legalize cannabis.
The House and Senate passed two separate bills that would legalize cannabis in the state. The bills will now need to pass in their originating chambers on February 12 before both chambers can pass a singular bill to be signed into law. Cannabis was previously decriminalized in the state in July 2020.
There have been significant obstacles for both chambers. While the Senate largely supports the legalization of simple possession and the start of expungements this summer to combat the overcriminalization of people of color, the House does not. The House is interested in implementing laws that would deter bigger cannabis companies from entering the state, but the Senate has not shown concern about the issue.
“Last week we saw, really, more history being made with cannabis policy in Virginia. This was the first time that a marijuana legalization bill was not only heard but debated and passed on the floor of not one, but both chambers,” said Jenn Michelle Pedini, the executive director of Virginia NORML.
In the Senate bill, anyone 21 years and older would be allowed to possess less than an ounce of marijuana and the process to clear certain marijuana offenses both begin as early as July 1. The state sales tax would be set at 21 percent, and localities also have the option to add their own tax.
According to the House bill, licensing would be entirely at the state level and localities would be left to determine hours, implement zoning and land use rules and prohibit possession of opened cannabis products in public places.
The two bills do create an oversight committee, The Virginia Cannabis Control Authority, and reserves a portion of the revenue for Pre-K at-risk youth, public health programs and substance abuse prevention and treatment. Both bills state that adult-use cannabis sales, which will produce around $300 million annually in state tax revenue, would not start until January 1, 2024.
It would also create a social equity licensing program to encourage people affected by the criminalization of cannabis to benefit from the new market.
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