The Virginia Legislature on Saturday voted to legalize marijuana for adult recreational use, becoming the first state in the Old South to do so.
The House of Delegates voted 48-43 to pass the bill and the Senate approved it in a 20-19 vote. No Republicans in either chamber voted for the bill.
Virginia joins 15 other states and the District of Columbia in legalizing cannabis. The bill now goes to Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam, who supports legalization. Only two other states — Illinois and Vermont — have passed legislation to legalize, tax, and regulate recreational marijuana through the legislature, Politico reported.
But stoners will have to wait a bit — legalization won’t take effect until Jan 1, 2024. After that, state residents can possess up to one ounce of cannabis.
“The bill sets a 21 percent excise tax on marijuana and allows municipalities to add an additional 3 percent tax on retailers on top of existing sales taxes. Marijuana tax revenues would be used to fund pre-K education, substance use disorder treatment programs and other public health initiatives,” Politico reported. “A portion of revenues would also go toward a Cannabis Equity Reinvestment Fund, which would provide resources such as scholarships and workforce development for communities disproportionately impacted by drug enforcement.”
“It’s been a lot of work to get here, but I would say that we’re on the path to an equitable law allowing responsible adults to use cannabis,” said Sen. Adam Ebbin, the chief sponsor of the Senate bill, according to The Associated Press.
House Majority Leader Charniele Herring said the legislation is a “justice bill.”
“This moves us 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, but we seem to get the brunt of criminal convictions,” Herring said.
“Several Democrats said they hoped Northam would send the legislation back to them with amendments, including speeding up the date for legalization,” said the AP.
“If we have already made the decision that simple possession should be repealed, we could have done that today and ended the disproportionate fines on communities of color,” said Sen. Jennifer McClellan.
“Let’s be absolutely clear — this bill is not legalization, and there are a lot of steps between here and legalization,” she said.
Northam’s spokeswoman, Alena Yarmosky, said the governor “looks forward to continuing to improve this legislation.”
The bill calls for dedicating 30% of marijuana tax revenue to a “Cannabis Equity Reinvestment Fund.” That money would be used “to help communities that have been historically over-policed for marijuana crimes, with funds going toward scholarships, workforce development and job placement services, and low- or no-interest loans for qualified cannabis businesses,” said the AP.
“Virginians who have a marijuana-related conviction, have family members with a conviction, or live in an area that is economically distressed could qualify as social equity applicants who would get preference for licenses to get into the marijuana marketplace as cultivators, wholesalers, processors and retailers.”