FILE - Marijuana

A marijuana plant at in the coastal mountain range of San Luis Obispo, Calif.

(The Center Square) – A person will be able to legally possess small amounts of marijuana within Virginia in less than three months after legislation narrowly passed the General Assembly on Wednesday.

The legalization is effective July 1 after the successful amendment by Gov. Ralph Northam won support from a majority of the House of Delegates and Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax broke the tie in the Senate. The language that previously passed the General Assembly would have delayed the legalization for three years.

“Today, we’ve taken a huge step towards redressing the disparate enforcement of marijuana laws across the Commonwealth that have targeted and punished Black and Brown communities for generations,” Sen. Jennifer McClellan, D-Richmond, said in a statement.

“During session, I introduced the amendment to repeal the prohibition on the simple possession of marijuana this July because postponing legalization until 2024 would have only prolonged the unjust enforcement Black and Brown communities endure,” McClellan said. “I am pleased that Gov. Northam and my colleagues in the General Assembly adopted this amendment in the final legislation.”

Commercially cultivating, selling and transporting marijuana will still be delayed until 2024. This provides the state with time to establish regulations for the industry and award licenses to businesses. A person would be able to legally grow up to four plants, but not use it for commercial purposes. 

The amended version of the bill passed through a tighter window primarily because lawmakers were concerned it would bolster the illegal drug trade because residents could legally possess marijuana before the commercial marketplace was set up. 

Jenn Michelle Pedini, the executive director of Virginia NORML, applauded the General Assembly for approving the amendment. NORML is an organization that promotes the legalization of marijuana.

“This is an incredible victory for Virginia,” Pedini said. “Legalization will bring an end to the thousands of low-level marijuana infractions occurring annually in the Commonwealth -- ending a discriminatory practice that far too often targets Virginians who are young, poor, and people of color.”

Under the approved legislation, local governments will be allowed to adopt ordinances to prohibit the sale of marijuana within their jurisdiction. This opt-out clause would still permit residents to possess and use marijauana within that jurisdiction.

Staff Reporter

Tyler Arnold reports on Virginia and West Virginia for The Center Square. He previously worked for the Cause of Action Institute and has been published in Business Insider, USA TODAY College, National Review Online and the Washington Free Beacon.