Virginia Governor Ralph Northam wants simple possession of cannabis for adults to be legal by this summer, three years earlier than previously planned.
Northam is asking the state legislature to approve changes that would allow adults 21 and over to possess an ounce or less of cannabis without facing a penalty and permit households to grow up to four pot plants starting on July 1, 2021.
If passed, Virginia will be the latest state to legalize recreational cannabis, and the first in the south. Last week, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed legislation to make New York the most recent state to take this step.
Lawmakers will consider Northan’s proposed amendments when they reconvene on April 7. Northam also wants people to be able to have their cannabis charges expunged or criminal records sealed as soon as possible.
Recreational sales are not expected to start in Virginia until 2024 under this legislation, though Senator Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria), one of the bill sponsors, said that is not yet set in stone. As amended, lawmakers will still need to vote again next year before any business licenses can be awarded.
“We have to set up the agency, so that could change,” Ebbin said. “I hope it won’t, but we are going to do it as expeditiously as possible.”
Under the governor’s amendments, those growing inside their homes must label their plants, keep them out of public view and out of range of anyone under the age of 21. While having up to an ounce of cannabis will not come with the penalty, people will not be allowed to distribute or sell any cannabis.
In the bill that was previously agreed on by the General Assembly, home cultivation was subject to re-enactment, meaning it also needed another majority vote in next year’s session to become a reality.
Bill patron and House Majority Leader Charniele Herring (D-Alexandria) said allowing home growth this summer was an important step in getting previously skeptical House members on board with an earlier legalization date for simple possession. Herring also said this gives people an avenue to legally obtain marijuana before the recreational industry matured.
“The home growth amendment was very important,” Herring said. “Otherwise, we did not think it would be a responsible thing to do. Members of the House feel more comfortable voting this for now. I certainly will be.”
Herring expects the governor’s amendments to pass, but she cautioned that lawmakers are still reviewing the changes. Ebbin also expects the Senate to approve the package with bipartisan support.