Democratic leaders in the House of Delegates say they now support legalizing marijuana on July 1, joining the Senate in backing amendments to a legalization bill lawmakers passed last month.
They also went a step further, endorsing the legalization of personal cultivation at the same time.
“The time is now for us to act,” wrote speaker Eileen Filler-Corn in a statement.
The General Assembly voted at the end of February to legalize marijuana, but not until Jan. 1, 2024, when the state’s first legal marijuana businesses would open. The decision to tie legalization to commercial sales disappointed activists, who argued that waiting three years would needlessly prolong the racial disparities in policing that lawmakers said they were trying to address.
The bill is now before Gov. Ralph Northam, who voiced support this week for moving up the date. He has until Wednesday to propose amendments to the bill, which the General Assembly would take up on April 7.
“I personally don’t think we should be arresting or penalizing somebody for something we’re getting ready to legalize,” Northam told VPM News on Wednesday. “I plan to place a number of amendments in front of the legislature and hopefully we’ll be able to move those forward.”
During the session, the Senate had amended its version of the bill to legalize possession of an ounce or less of marijuana beginning July 1. Lawmakers in the House rejected the amendment, worrying it would allow the illicit market to flourish and make it harder for the new legal marketplace to succeed when it was finally up and running.
Neither proposal would have allowed home cultivation, capped at four plants per household, until 2024.
House Majority Leader Charniele Herring, D-Alexandria, said earlier this week that any decision to move up the legalization date needed to be accompanied by funding for public safety campaigns, something sources familiar with negotiations say Northam is also likely to address when he sends down amendments.
“Basically, if you’re going to legalize simple possession July 1, there has to be a plan for education and public safety,” said Herring, who sponsored the legislation in the House.
On Friday, she tweeted thanking Filler-Corn for supporting the amendments, which would also speed up resentencing and expungement provisions addressing past charges.
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