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Virginia Legalizes Recreational Cannabis, Amends to Earlier Date



Just after New York’s victory in legalizing recreational cannabis, the Virginia Legislature voted to pass a bill legalizing the possession of an ounce or less of cannabis on Wednesday. This move makes Virginia the 16th state in the US to take this step.

The new law will allow adults 21 and over to possess an ounce or less of cannabis starting July 1, amended from the previous date, Jan. 1, 2024. Governor Ralph Northam, a Democrat, argued it would be a mistake to penalize people during that idle period for a substance that would soon be legal. 

According to NPR, the bill passed after Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax broke a 20-20 vote tie in the Virginia Senate; no Republicans voted in favor of the law. Regarding the 300-page bill, Republicans had their share of objections, including measures that would grant licensing preferences to groups affected by the War on Drugs and make it easier for unionizing among workers in the industry. 

The bill specifies a category of “social equity” applicants, like people who have been charged with cannabis-related offenses or who graduated from historically Black schools; those people will be given preference when the state grants licensing.

Governor Northam and other Virginia Democrats emphasized the legalization as a way to address the War on Drugs and its negative effects, specifically toward Virginians of color. New York and New Jersey addressed those patterns as well upon legalization of recreational cannabis. 

The Virginia proposal sets aside 30 percent of funds to go toward communities most affected by the War on Drugs. Additionally, 40 percent of the revenue in Virginia will go toward early childhood education, the remainder funding public health and substance abuse treatment programs.

The expedited timeline forces Virginia cannabis consumers into an idle period of sorts. It will be legal to grow up to four cannabis plants starting July 1, but it may take years before the state can begin to license recreational cannabis retailers. Some other states were able to allow their state’s medical dispensaries to sell to all adults immediately, though this is not the case for Virginia.

While it will likely take some time to iron out the gaps, and there is already a push to allow retail sales to begin as soon as possible aligning with the amended date, many praised Virginia’s measure and the social equity measures included. 

Democratic House of Delegates Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn shared her reaction to the bill in a statement. “Today, with the Governor’s amendments, we will have made tremendous progress in ending the targeting of Black and Brown Virginians through selective enforcement of marijuana prohibition by this summer.”