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General Assembly Passes Northam Amendment, Marijuana to Be Legalized July 1st

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AP Photo / Steve Helber
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The Democrat-controlled Virginia General Assembly voted Wednesday to accept Gov. Ralph Northam’s proposed changes to a marijuana legalization bill that will allow limited possession and cultivation of the drug beginning in July.

Northam sent the bill back to lawmakers substantially changed from the version they sent him February.

The amendments lawmakers agreed to Wednesday would accelerate the timeline of legalization by about three years, a move that’s been cheered by racial justice advocates.

Northam’s amendments cleared the House 53-44 with two abstentions.

When lawmakers approved legalizing marijuana earlier this year, the bill squeaked out of the Senate with a tight vote. So, when Governor Ralph Northam amended the bill to speed up the timeline for full legalization this summer, all eyes were on the Senate chamber. And it was a very dramatic moment. 

 

"Ayes 20. Noes 20,” reads the clerk.  

 

“Ayes 20. Noes 20. The chair votes aye. The governor's recommendations are agreed to," says Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax breaking a 20-20 tie in the Senate; approving the governor's amendments and giving the go ahead for legalization on July 1st.  

 

The bill was introduced by Senator Adam Ebbin of Alexandria, who says Virginia is making history as the first state in the south to legalize marijuana. 

 

"Certainly some things will change, but they're not all for the worst," he says. "Cannabis does not have to be the boogeyman that some are making it out to be." 

 

Smoking marijuana while driving will still be illegal, as will public consumption and providing access to minors. But possessing small amounts of marijuana will be legal, and you can grow the plants in your home. Lawmakers still need to come back around next year to consider what kind of protections exist for workers employed in the new industry when commercial sales begin in 2024. 

 

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.

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Michael Pope is an author and journalist who lives in Old Town Alexandria.