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Gov. Northam signs bill legalizing marijuana

Updated: Apr. 21, 2021 at 6:19 PM EDT
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RICHMOND, Va. (WVIR) - It’s official: Governor Northam has signed marijuana legalization into law. Northam put pen to paper at a signing ceremony, flanked by lawmakers and advocates who helped push the bill over the finish line in Richmond. Advocates for the bill say it’s a good start, but there is still a long way to go.

The bill officially makes simple possession of marijuana – amounts up to one ounce for people 21 and up – legal as of July 1. Virginia is the 17th state to legalize marijuana, and the first state in the South to do so.

“This is the latest step we are taking to building a more equitable and just Virginia,” Northam said before the signing. “Reforming our criminal justice system to make it more fair.”

Speaking moments before the bill was signed, top Democratic lawmakers in Virginia’s Senate and House of Delegates praised the legalization. They were joined by advocates and those that worked behind the scenes to make legalization a reality.

“This law establishes social equity as a pillar and major priority,” Virginia’s Deputy Chief Diversity Officer Alaysia Black Hackett said. “It focuses on health equity, economic equity, and equity in criminal justice.”

Delegate Sally Hudson (D-57th District) was one of the lawmakers who voted for the bill, which passed the House of Delegates 53 votes to 44, with two delegates abstaining.

“I think this bill is a huge step for Virginia in our work to end the war on drugs,” Hudson explained. “We’re also starting the very serious process of sealing and expunging past convictions for drug offenses, recognizing that there are many people who have marks on their record for something that’s about to be legal for everyone.”

Northam moving up the effective date for the bill to July, from its previously projected date of January 2024, leaves several issues associated with legalization in limbo. Chief among them is establishing a legal marketplace for marijuana sales.

“We want to take some time in order to set up a framework that will provide a little bit of protection for Virginians trying to get a foothold in that industry,” Hudson said.

It will still be illegal to sell Marijuana in any amount until 2024, when licensed sales will go into effect. Hudson says beyond just establishing a framework, it’s important to make sure the people that have been harmed the most have a stake in the future.

“Trying to repair the harms of the past, and ensure that people who have been directly impacted by the war on drugs are first in line to benefit from this new industry that is about to spring up in Virginia,” She explained.

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