Brownies, revenge and a doctor’s touch: inside the close vote to legalize marijuana in Virginia

Brownies, revenge and a doctor’s touch: inside the close vote to legalize marijuana in Virginia
The voting board shows a 20-20 tie on Gov. Ralph Northam's amendments to SB1406, the marijuana legalization bill on Wednesday. Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax broke the tie by voting for the bill, passing it with the governor's amendments moving the effective date up to July 1, 2021. Democrat Chap Petersen, D-Fairfax, was the only Democrat to vote against the measure. (Source: Pool photo by Bob Brown/ Richmond Times-Dispatch)

It was a few hours until the General Assembly would vote on final amendments to legislation that would make Virginia the first state in the South to legalize marijuana and Sen. Adam Ebbin, one of the bill’s Senate patrons, was feeling confident.

As a joke, he stopped by a Richmond bakery to pick up a plate of brownies, commonly associated with the drug they were about make legal. “I thought it would maybe lighten the tone,” Ebbin, D-Alexandria, said. “Several members asked what was in them and I told them they were placebos.”

But after he delivered the treats to his colleagues in the Senate, Ebbin learned votes he’d thought he’d secured were slipping away and amendments handed down by Gov. Ralph Northam to salvage his bill might not pass. “I was regretting that I stopped at the bakery,” he said, describing the turn as “stomach wrenching.”

Northam’s amendments, which among other things sped the timeline for legalization from 2024 to this summer, ultimately passed on Wednesday. But the vote came down to the wire after two Republican supporters got cold feet and a Democratic holdout furious at a colleague in the House threatened to torpedo the measure.

It was not the first time the bill’s passage, which Democrats in the General Assembly view as a key achievement of their first two years in power, appeared uncertain.

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