The General Assembly convened Wednesday to take up the proposed changes that Governor Ralph Northam made to bills that passed in the special session earlier this year. Instead of vetoing a bill, the governor has the power to amend it and send it back to the General Assembly for consideration. A key piece from the package of proposed changes is moving the date of marijuana legalization from 2024, which the General Assembly already voted to do last month, to July 1 of this year.
“Today, Virginia can make history as the first state in the South to legalize the simple possession of marijuana—and restore justice to those harmed by decades of over criminalization,” Northam tweeted Wednesday before the legislators took up the proposed changes. “I urge the General Assembly to adopt my amendments and make this happen.”
The changes eventually passed in both chambers, ensuring that marijuana will be legalized this summer after Northam signs the bill. This does not mean you will be allowed to smoke weed publicly, however.
The specific language of the bill only allows for anyone at least 21-years-old to possess small amounts (less than an ounce) of marijuana. It will be treated like alcohol as far as being used in public and it also allows for people to grow up to four plants per household. For now, that is it. The rest of the aspects for legalization have to be reconsidered next year and would not be enacted until 2024.
The bill faced opposition from state Senator Amanda Chase who said she was speaking for the parents of young adults across Virginia. “I have four young adults, 25, 20, 19, and 22,” she said on the Senate floor. “What message are we sending to our young adults with this bill? Let me tell you the message we are sending, we are sending a message to our kids that it is okay to do drugs in Virginia now.” She called the bill selfish, reckless, and irresponsible.
A poll from Christopher Newport University two months ago, however, shows that 68% of registered voters in Virginia support legalizing marijuana.
“The legalization of Marijuana is a critical step in the direction of creating a fairer and more equitable Virginia,” said Speaker of the House Eileen Filler-Corn (D-Fairfax). “I am grateful for the work and leadership shown on this issue by Leader Herring, Virginia Legislative Black Caucus Chairman Bagby, my colleagues in the House and Senate, Governor Northam and the countless activists who have dedicated their time, energy and passion to this cause. I said weeks ago that the time to act has arrived and today the House has met that moment.”
Governor Northam’s signature will be the final step for the legalization of marijuana this year.
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