Virginia lawmakers approve Northam’s push to speed up marijuana legalization

Updated: Apr. 7, 2021 at 11:18 PM EDT
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RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - Virginia lawmakers have approved Governor Ralph Northam’s push to speed up marijuana legislation.

The House voted 53 to 44, with two abstaining, in favor of Northam’s new dates. The Senate voted 20 to 20 with Lt. Governor Justin Fairfax, a Democrat, casting the deciding vote in favor of the passage.

The bill that landed on the governor’s desk called for legalization in 2024, but Northam says he wants to get it done in a matter of months, no later than July 1 of this year.

The specific amendment called for pushing up legalizing simple possession of one ounce of the drug.

Both chamber sessions were scheduled to start at 12 p.m. on Thursday. It wasn’t until around 3:30 p.m. that the House of Delegates finally cast their votes, with the Senate about one hour later.

It drew comments from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle:

“If there is any expectation by any of you altruists who are determined to make this a part of your legislative legacy and advance it now, you think about that. You think about whether or not your children are going to not smoke marijuana when you tell them ‘You can’t until you’re 21,’” said Senate Minority Leader, Senator Tommy Norment, Jr.

District 32 Representative, Janet Howell, said in response, “I would like to point out to the Senate Minority Leader, the kids are already smoking marijuana. They’re already doing it. And saying that you can’t do it one more time isn’t going to make any difference to them. To me, that’s a non-starter for an argument.”

The governor originally announced his proposals one week ago.

“This is an incredible victory for Virginia...Ultimately it’s the news that we were working towards,” said Jenn Michelle Pedini with Virginia NORML.

The change means no penalty for adults having up to an ounce of pot on their person and adults can now grow up to four cannabis plants at their homes.

Pedini says Virginia leaders listened to the people.

“They were really, really clear that they wanted this to happen and they wanted it to happen this year, sending close to 9,000 constituent emails to the legislature in support,” Pedini said.

Senator Jennifer McClellan is one of the lawmakers who supported it. Still, she wants the public to know what the change does not mean.

“You won’t be able to drive with it, use it on a school bus, children or anyone under 21 will not be able to possess...You can’t buy it. You can’t distribute it. You can just possess it and grow small amounts at home.”

Northam’s office says the reasoning stemmed from unfair policing among Black Virginians. The measure also calls for special training for police.

“You can’t just say, ‘oh, I think you might be high so I’m going to charge you or arrest you,’” McClellan stressed.

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