Virginia House passes bill to legalize marijuana ahead of Senate vote

Virginia House passes bill to legalize marijuana ahead of Senate vote

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — The Virginia House of Delegates voted Friday to legalize marijuana for those 21 years and older, an effort backed by Gov. Ralph Northam (D) that will get a final vote in the Senate later in the day.

If the legislation is signed by Northam, Virginia would become the first in the South to authorize recreational use of cannabis, however, it still remains unclear when it will go into effect.

Despite its approval, the House’s version of the legislation would not repeal the civil penalty that comes with decriminalization until 2024. The Senate’s bill, a proposal from the governor formally introduced by state Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria) and Senate President Pro Tempore Louise Lucas (D-Portsmouth), originally called for legal sales to begin in 2023.

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Northam’s administration proposed establishing a regulatory system monitored by Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control Authority and a seven member Cannabis Control Advisory Board within the agency to oversee a legal industry.

In the end, the Senate Rehabilitation and Social Services Committee approved a recommondation from a marijuana subcommittee adding an amendment to establish a new regulatory agency and mandatory quarterly progress updates.

Lawmakers agreed with experts who said that creating a brand new agency would delay Northam’s goal to begin sales in 2023. Both bills from the Senate and House has an effective date for retail sales to being by 2024.

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While the proposed target date for legal sales was pushed back in the Senate, an amendment was introduced to eliminate the $25 civil penalty by July.

“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,” state Sen. Jennifer McClellan (D-Richmond, who introduced the change, said during a Senate Judiciary Committee meeting in January.

The House voted 55-42, with two state delegates abstaining, to approve its bill.

This story is developing. Check back for updates.

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