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Virginia Legalizes Recreational Cannabis

By Leo Bear-McGuinness

Published: Apr 08, 2021   
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After weeks of deliberation, the governor of Virginia has signed the state’s recreational cannabis bill, effectively legalizing marijuana from July 1, 2021.

The bill was first approved by the state legislature in late February, but Governor Ralph Northam was hesitant to sign as that bill wouldn’t have legalized cannabis possession until 2024 – a delay too costly to the state’s racial equality plans, according to Northam.

But during a vote on Wednesday, April 7, Virginia legislators amended the bill’s wording to bring the legalization date closer. Content with this change, Governor Northam has since signed the bill.

“It’s official,” he wrote in a statement on Twitter. “Virginia just approved historic legislation legalizing the simple possession of marijuana on July 1, 2021.”

“This is a monumental step to address racial disparities in our criminal justice system and build an equitable, inclusive future for our Commonwealth.”

Green in Virginia

Under the newly worded bill, possession and home cultivation of cannabis will be legal for those aged 21 and over in Virginia from July 1 this year. Adults will be able to possess up to 1 ounce (28 grams) of cannabis. Any plants permitted for personal use (up to four) would have to be labeled with “identification information, out of sight of public view, and out of range of individuals under the age of 21.”

“We made history as the first state in the South to legalize the simple possession of marijuana,” Governor Northam wrote in a press statement. “I am pleased that the General Assembly accepted my proposal to make this change on July 1, 2021 nearly three years earlier than planned.”

“Marijuana laws were explicitly designed to target communities of color, and Black Virginians are disproportionately likely to be stopped, charged, and convicted,” his statement continued. “Today, Virginia took a critical step to right these wrongs and restore justice to those harmed by decades of over-criminalization.”

Governor Northam signed a bill to decriminalize cannabis possession in May last year. So, since July 1, 2020, cannabis possession (of up to one ounce) has been punishable by a $25 fine in Virginia rather than jail time or a criminal record.

But while it may be legal to possess and grow cannabis for personal use in Virginia come July 1 this year, being able to legally buy marijuana is another matter. Without a further vote, cannabis entrepreneurs and would-be retailers will have to wait until July 2024 for licensing to come into effect. For many legalization campaigners, that delay in legal sales is too long.

“In the interest of public and consumer safety, Virginians 21 and older should be able to purchase retail cannabis products at the already operational dispensaries in 2021, not in 2024,” Jenn Michelle Pedini, development director of NORML, a non-profit that advocates for cannabis legalization, said in a statement. “Such a delay will only exacerbate the divide for equity applicants and embolden illicit activity.”


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