(The Center Square) – In just over two months, the possession and use of marijuana for recreational purposes will be fully legal in Virginia after Gov. Ralph Northam signed legislation Wednesday.
Possession and use of marijuana will be legal July 1, but the commercial cultivation, selling and transporting of marijuana is delayed until 2024. This is to provide time for the state to establish regulations for the industry and award licenses to businesses, but has yielded a lot of questions about how one could legally purchase the product until sale is legal.
Some critics of the legislation warned that the bill could bolster the illegal drug market because possession would be legal without sale being legal. A person can legally buy marijuana in Washington, D.C., which borders Virginia, but transporting it across state lines would still violate federal law.
These concerns led the General Assembly to initially pass a version of the bill, which would have held off on legal possession and use until the product was available for purchase. The governor, though, proposed an amendment to speed up legal possession, which narrowly passed the General Assembly after some Democrats pulled their support. Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax had to break a tie in the Senate.
Northam’s amendment had support from Virginia NORML, which has been one of the biggest forces pushing for legalization in the commonwealth. Executive Director Jenn Michelle Pedini spoke alongside Northam when he signed the legislation.
“Today, together, we celebrate an extraordinary victory for cannabis justice in the Commonwealth.” Pedini said. “Still, we have so much more work ahead, and NORML remains committed to continuing our efforts on behalf of Virginians, with the legislature, with the administration, and with the new Cannabis Control Authority to make sure we do get this right.”
The legislation legalizes use for Virginians 21 years or older. They will also be allowed to grow up to four marijuana plants, but they cannot be used for commercial purposes.
Local governments will be allowed to adopt ordinances that prohibit the sale of marijuana within their jurisdiction. However, the opt-out clause would still allow residents in any part of the state to possess and use marijuana.
Northam signed the legislation on April 21, which is one day after the unofficial "4/20" holiday promoted my marijuana smokers.