RICHMOND, Va. – Adults in Virginia could legally possess and grow small amounts of marijuana beginning in July, about three years sooner than initially envisioned, under changes the governor proposed Wednesday to legislation passed earlier this year.
“Our Commonwealth is committed to legalizing marijuana in an equitable way,” Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam said in a news release outlining the date change and other amendments he is seeking. “Virginia will become the 15th state to legalize marijuana - and these changes will ensure we do it with a focus on public safety, public health, and social justice.”
Advocates on all sides of the issue have been eagerly waiting for weeks to see what changes Northam would propose to the bill that cleared the General Assembly in February.
The measure has been a top priority for Democrats who control the state government, who consider it a necessary step to end the disparate treatment of people of color under current marijuana laws. But lawmakers struggled to reach agreement during the session, passing a bill that almost no one seemed fully satisfied with. It would not have legalized marijuana until 2024, which racial justice advocates said was far too long to wait.
Northam’s office said his decision to speed up legalization was driven by a state study from last year that found Black Virginians were disproportionately policed and convicted for using marijuana, and by data from state courts that show the trend has continued even since lawmakers decriminalized marijuana last year.
Discussions with lawmakers went down to the wire; Wednesday was Northam’s deadline for taking action on legislation.
His office issued a press release filled with supportive remarks from legislative leaders in both chambers and two Republicans, signaling that his proposed changes have the votes to become law once legislators reconvene in April.
“I am grateful to the advocates and legislators for their dedicated work on this important issue, and I look forward to this legislation passing next month,” Northam said.