Exactly one week after New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a bill to legalize adult use cannabis, and lawmakers in New Mexico sent an adult use bill to Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s desk, Virginia has become the 17th state to legalize cannabis for adult use.
Lawmakers initially sent adult use legislation to Gov. Ralph Northam’s desk in February, as Cannabis Wire reported, but it contained a 2024 start date for legal possession, home cultivation, and sales. Advocates argued that consumers should not be criminalized while regulators crafted the framework for legal sales, and vowed to push for Northam to consider amendments.
Those efforts were successful. Last Wednesday, Northam called for the legislation to be amended to “allow households to grow up to four plants beginning on July 1, 2021” and to legalize possession of one ounce of cannabis on that same date. Today, one week later, the House and the Senate concurred.
“It’s official—Virginia just approved historic legislation legalizing the simple possession of marijuana on July 1, 2021,” Northam tweeted Wednesday evening. “This is a monumental step to address racial disparities in our criminal justice system and build an equitable, inclusive future for our Commonwealth.”
Two lawmakers in particular spearheaded the bills: House Majority Leader Charniele Herring and Senator Adam Ebbin. After Wednesday’s votes, Herring said in a statement, “It is a huge day for equity in the Commonwealth.” Ebbin said, in a statement, that the legislation’s passage “caps off years of struggle to reform our broken and outdated marijuana laws and begins the deliberate steps to repeal the harms of the failed prohibition.”
Both lawmakers thanked Virginia NORML, which has been behind the state’s cannabis reforms for years, up to and including pushing for the governor’s amendments. When lawmakers initially passed the bill, in February, NORML Development Director Jenn Michelle Pedini, who also serves as the Executive Director of Virginia NORML, told Cannabis Wire, “The measure succeeding really is another step forward for cannabis justice in Virginia. There were extraordinary amounts of compromise involved in conference committee negotiations, and while the legislation is far from ideal, it does move the ball forward significantly.”
Virginia has been on a steady path toward legalization since, at least, 2019, when the state’s Attorney General Mark Herring hosted a cannabis summit to discuss everything from decriminalization to full adult use. Last year, Northam signed decriminalization legislation into law, and, by year’s end, a work group sent him a 500-page report outlining legalization recommendations. In November, Northam called on lawmakers to pass adult use legislation this year.
Starting this summer, a newly established Virginia Cannabis Control Authority will begin to build the framework for adult use sales. Though, much of the legislation, for example, with regard to new penalties, will require “re-enactment,” which means that they would not move forward until lawmakers re-enact them by vote next year.