In a vote that took place on Saturday, Virginia lawmakers passed a bill that would legalize the recreational use and sale of marijuana for adults, taking effect in the beginning of 2024.
Under the proposed bill, the legal possession limit of marijuana will be set at 1 ounce (28.3 grams), and sale of cannabis will be taxable at a rate of 30%. The taxed money will go to a Cannabis Equity Reinvestment Fund, aimed at providing relief to communities that have been over-policed for drug-related crimes.
This would make Virginia the first southern state to legalize recreational marijuana, joining the 15 other states and the District of Columbia that have done the same.
Having passed through the legislature, the bill requires the signature of governor Ralph Northam to go into effect.
“There’s still a lot of work ahead, but this bill will help to reinvest in our communities and reduce inequities in our criminal justice system,” said Northam’s spokesperson, Alena Yarmosky.
Senators endorsing the bill hoped to have had the possession of marijuana legalized by the end of the year, but House Democrats argued that a rushed legalization without a regulated legal market would have encouraged Virginians to opt to purchase from the black market instead.
State Democrats hope to continue to negotiate with governor Northam on introducing amendments to the bill, including one to set an earlier legalization date.
Racial Justice and Marijuana Legalization
While the legalization bill has received a positive reception in Virginia’s governing bodies, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has been among the dissenting voices against the bill.
Among the ACLU’s criticisms was how little the proposed bill will do to repair the racial disparities caused by the war on drugs.
“Today, the Virginia General Assembly failed to legalize marijuana for racial justice. Lawmakers paid lip service to the communities that have suffered decades of harm caused by the racist War on Drugs with legislation that falls short of equitable reform and delays justice,” the ACLU tweeted.
House Democrats have disputed this claim, arguing that it is a step in the right direction in curbing down racial injustice.
House Majority Leader Charniele Herring (D) said that the bill will move Virginia in a “direction to strike down and to address those institutional barriers, and over-policing, over-arrests, over-convictions of African Americans who do not use marijuana at a higher rate than our white counterparts.”
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