Dozens of states are jockeying to become the 16th US state to legalize adult-use cannabis, but Virginia just moved to the front of the line.
Last week, the state legislature was scrambling to approve an adult-use legalization bill before an important deadline ran out. This new bill was introduced into the state House of Delegates and the Senate at the start of this year's first legislative session, but in order to pass the bill, both chambers needed to approve it by last Friday, a critical crossover deadline.
All throughout last week, legislators pushed the bill through assorted committees in order to make the deadline. Each committee proposed numerous amendments and alterations to the bill, but lawmakers were encouraged to simply pass the bill as is so that it could progress. The committees acquiesced, and each chamber advanced the bill to a floor vote on Friday.
State Senator Adam Ebbin (D) called the bill "a forward-thinking, deliberative approach to create a regulated adult-use market for cannabis, which will reform our criminal justice system and begin the long process of undoing the harms of prohibition,” Marijuana Moment reports. Ebbin said that the “Commonwealth’s prohibition on cannabis has clearly failed,” and it looks like most of his fellow lawmakers agree with him.
The House approved the final version of its bill with a 55-42 vote, and hours later, the Senate approved its own version with a 23-15 vote. Each vote occurred in time to meet Friday's crossover deadline, and now the House version of the bill will be sent to the Senate, and the Senate version will be sent to the House. In order to reconcile these two versions, lawmakers will likely convene a bicameral conference committee and create one final version of the legislation.
At heart, both versions of the adult-use bill accomplish the same task. Adults over 21-years-old will be allowed to purchase and possess up to one ounce of weed each and can grow up to 4 pot plants at home. The bill would establish a regulated cannabis retail market, taxing sales at 21 percent. Forty percent of this revenue would go into the state's public education fund, while the rest would be divided between social equity, drug treatment, and public health programs.
There are many issues that still need to be resolved, though. The bill contains provisions to expunge former cannabis criminal records and provide social equity business licenses, but the details for these programs still need further clarification. Lawmakers also plan to debate home cultivation rules, business licensing and regulations, vertical integration rules, and licensing caps.
Once the committee releases its finalized legalization bill, it requires a second approval from the legislature and the signature of Governor Ralph Northam in order to become law. But since the governor and a strong majority of lawmakers have already expressed their full support for the bill, it is looking likely that Virginia will legalize weed this year.
Politicians are not the only ones pushing for legalization, either – a recent poll found that 68 percent of all registered voters in Virginia are totally down with legal weed.
“Virginians have been clear in their support for this issue and Governor Northam agrees, it is time to legalize the responsible use of cannabis by adults in the Commonwealth,” said Jenn Michelle Pedini, executive director of Virginia NORML, in a statement. “And while today’s historic votes seek to put this majority public opinion into practice, there still remains much work to be done by NORML and others to ensure that Virginia gets it right and implements legislation that is expeditious and just.”