Photo by Wesley Gibbs on Unsplash

The Virginia General Assembly legalized marijuana for adult recreational use and a future for retail sales. This traditionally conservative southern state has made a historic shift on an issue it has typically incarcerated people for. 

Starting July 1, people over the age of 21 will be allowed to possess up to one ounce of marijuana. The retail of cannabis won’t be available until 2024 and will be sold in regulated commercial dispensaries. 

Tax revenues from the sales will go to addiction treatment, health programs and pre-k, according to officials.The process of expungement will be permitted to anyone convicted of a marijuana misdemeanor. 

RELATED: Opinion: Legalizing Hard Drugs Helps Everyone But The Bad Guys

Originally, cannabis was slated to be sold in Virginia by 2023, as proposed by Gov. Ralph Northam but has now been pushed back one year. This will allow the state to create an independent agency to oversee the marijuana industry instead of the Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control Authority. 

“I’m excited that we’ve chosen to have an independent agency, but what worries me is that we are aligning timing of regulation with timing of repealing the prohibition for simple possession, and those two things should not be legislated together,” said Chelsea Higgs, Director of Marijuana Justice.

Delegate Don Scott also backed the legalization. 

“There are more deaths from legal pharmaceuticals … sold at your local CVS and Walgreens that cause way more deaths than anything that marijuana…will do,” Scott said. 

Two Republican Senators joined the Democrats to help pass the bill with a 23-15 vote and in the House of Delegates with a 55-42 vote. 

Last year, Virginia passed a bill that decriminalized possession of small amounts of marijuana. It changed a potential criminal conviction that carries up to a $500 fine and 30 days in jail for a first offense and up to a year in jail for repeated offenders to a $25 civil fine. Previous convictions are now sealed from public view. 

“If we know we’re going down the road of legalizing, it seems to me that the repeal of simple possession at a minimum should take effect July 1 of this year,” said Virginia Senator Jennifer McClellan.  

Although there was support for the push of legalization, there were senators who did not agree with the bill. 

“I find it inexcusable that this administration has devoted more time and energy and effort in getting THC into the bloodstreams of our minority community than it has in getting the coronavirus vaccine into the bloodstreams of our minority community,” said Senator Mark Peake. 

He said the state should wait to see the results of the decriminalization before moving forward. 

Although passed by both, the bill has some key issues to be resolved before it will be sent to Gov. Northam, who backs the legalization.

Written ByLevon Satamian

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