VIRGINIA – The Virginia General Assembly convened on Friday and passed multiple bills that could impact Virginians across the Commonwealth, including a bill legalizing marijuana.
Similar bills passed both the House and Senate after some debate.
“Legalizing marijuana will not end the illegal activity in sales,” said Del. James Leftwich, Jr. Chesapeake (R-78).
“This bill provides social equity and helps improve those communities who have been most impacted and harmed by the prohibition against cannabis,” said Del. Don Scott Jr., Portsmouth (D-80).
The bill eliminates criminal penalties for marijuana possession of less than one ounce for anyone 21 or older. It clears those convicted of certain marijuana-related crimes and adds a tax on retail marijuana and products.
The expunging of those crimes and the new possession penalty would begin July 1, but the legal sale of marijuana would not begin until 2024.
“What’s it going to do to our youth? What’s it going to do to our safety of our people driving on our roads? What’s it going to do to our workforce? What’s it going to do to our health?” asked Sen. Mark Peake, (R-22).
“Black Virginians are more than 3.5 times as likely to be arrested for marijuana, despite similar rates as white Virginians,” said Sen. Louise Lucas, (D-18).
Roanoke Democratic Del. Sam Rasoul voted in favor but has some concerns.
“Making sure that we take those revenues and put them back into communities that really need them, making sure that we have the proper criminal justice reforms, making sure that we are thoughtful about the health and wellbeing of our children,” said Rasoul, (D-11).
Both chambers also passed bills to abolish the death penalty. The Senate passing its version on Wednesday and the House passing one Friday, 55 to 42.
“The death penalty is the direct descendant of lynching. It is state-sponsored racism,” said Del. Jerrauld Jones, Norfolk (D-89).
“It’s not about revenge. Death penalty is not about retribution. Ultimately, it‘s about justice,” said Del. Jason Miyares, Virginia Beach (R-82).
Another notable Senate bill that passed and is now in the House Committee on Education requires schools to provide in-person learning to all students.
A Senate bill that would have prohibited someone convicted of domestic assault from buying, owning or transporting a firearm failed a vote.
Since Gov. Ralph Northam extended the special session from 30 to 46 days, lawmakers will reconvene on Wednesday.
Bills that passed in the House and the Senate now head to the other chamber for review. All bills passed by both chambers then hit Gov. Northam’s desk.