Cannabis legalization in America is spreading like a wildfire. On Wednesday April 21st, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, a democrat, signed Senate Bill (SB) 1406 — passing the use of recreational cannabis for adults over the age of 21.
While the move makes Virginia the 17th state in the nation to do so, reports the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), it is one of the first states in the South to legalize recreational cannabis.
Virginia’s new law
As of July 1st, adults in Virginia will be able to purchase, grow, and possess up to 1 ounce of cannabis. Fines for possession of more than 1 ounce, and less than 1 pound, are set at $25. If a person is caught with possessing more than a pound, authorities can still slap them with a felony with up to 10 years imprisonment and fines reaching as high as $250,000, explains the Virginia Mercury.
In addition, Virginians are also welcome to grow up to four plants per household with some regulations, according to the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML). For instance, growers cannot cultivate plants in public view. They must also tag the plants with the owner’s name, a valid i.d. such as a driver’s license, and a note expressing that it is for personal use.
Advancing the Legalization Timeline
When Virginia lawmakers originally approved recreational legalization, they planned to do so by January 1st, 2024. But, on April 7th, Gov. Northam pushed the timeline forward to this upcoming July instead, explains NBC. Northam amended the bill in order to end the criminalization of cannabis and push for a new future in Virginia.
The bill was passed in a 21-20 vote — no Republicans supported the legislation, reports NPR.
The democrats fought hard. Ultimately, Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax was the tie breaker. He voted in favor of the bill, which resulted in its passage, reports Virginia Mercury.
A Victory for Cannabis Justice
A main incentive to push the legalization timeline forward was to curb the amount of cannabis-related arrests.
The bill includes social equity measures for applicants seeking licenses in the cannabis industry. Officials will give such applicants, including people charged with cannabis-related misdemeanors, a priority over others, explains NORML.
Furthermore, the bill will also seal records for misdemeanor cannabis charges. However, it will take time to go into full effect due to a needed upgrade of state computer systems, reported the Virginia Mercury.
While there are still technicalities that the state of Virginia needs to work out, it is still a win for cannabis. So the question is — which Southern state will follow Virginia’s footsteps?