Virginia lawmakers voted Friday to legalize marijuana, agreeing in principle to legislation that would allow retail sales to begin in 2024 and expunge many past convictions.
“Our commonwealth’s prohibition on cannabis has clearly failed,” said Sen. Adam Ebbin, D-Alexandria, who sponsored the bill in the Senate with Sen. Louise Lucas, D-Portsmouth. “We’ve had hundreds of thousands of Virginians branded as criminals and disadvantaged in various ways, and the war on marijuana has disproportionately targeted and impacted Virginia’s communities of color.”
The bill passed the House on a 55-42 party line vote, with Democrats supporting and Republicans opposing. The measure drew modest bi-partisan support in the Senate, with two Republicans joining the chamber’s 21 Democrats in voting for the bill.
It’s a significant step for a state where, until last summer, possessing even small amounts of the drug was punishable with jail time. But lawmakers still need to work out major differences between the House and Senate versions of the bill before it heads to Gov. Ralph Northam, who has endorsed the idea and was instrumental in shaping the proposal.
The version the House adopted maintains all criminal penalties until Jan. 1, 2024, when the first dispensaries would be allowed to begin retail sales.
The Senate proposes legalizing possession of an ounce or less beginning this year. But they’ve included language in the bill that requires the General Assembly to vote on the issue again next year to finalize rules that will govern the legal retail marketplace.
The Virginia Mercury is a new, nonpartisan, nonprofit news organization covering Virginia government and policy.