Virginia Governor Ralph Northam bypassed his signature on adult cannabis legislation, but a package of amendments passed by a tiebreaker on Wednesday cleared the way for the dash of his pen.
The state’s legislative houses bridged the differences to pass a compromise law on Feb.27 after each body passed different measures – Senate Law 1406 and House Law 2312 – to end cannabis possession, personal cultivation, and adult retail sales Legalize 21 years.
The problem? These legalization efforts, including the property laws, would not have come into effect until January 1, 2024. After the legislature passed, Jenn Michelle Pedini, Virginia’s executive director for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Law (NORML) said that the schedule wasn’t good enough and she hoped to keep working to expedite certain aspects of legalization. Northam agreed and urged that certain parts of the legislature’s bill be expedited.
On April 7th, the General Assembly approved the Democratic Governor’s package of changes by Lt. Governor Justin Fairfax, who cast the casting vote in a split Senate. As a result, adults 21 and older are allowed to own up to 1 ounce of cannabis and grow up to four plants per household starting July 1, 2021 – shortening the time span by 2 1/2 years.
“As of July 1, 2021 – who counts, but in 71 days – Virginia will no longer monitor adults for possession of small amounts of marijuana,” Northam said during his signing ceremony on Wednesday. “What this really means is that people will no longer be arrested or punished for simple possessions that follow and affect their lives. We know that marijuana laws in Virginia and across the country have been disproportionately enforced against color communities and low-income Virginians. “
According to the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission (JLARC) in Virginia – the state’s bipartisan research arm – the average rate of arrests of black Virgins for marijuana possession was 3.5 times higher than the rate of arrests and convictions of white people from 2010 to 2019 The rate was 3.9 times higher than that of white people.
The social justice impact of ending the ban was mentioned by everyone who spoke during the governor’s signing ceremony, including Democratic Sens. Louise Lucas and Adam Ebbin who were the main sponsors of SB 1406, Democratic delegate Charniele Herring who HB 2312 and Democratic House spokeswoman Eileen Filler-Corn.
Alaysia Black Hackett, who represented the Office for Diversity, Justice and Inclusion (ODEI) as the governor’s deputy chief diversity officer, said, “This law establishes social justice as a pillar and priority. As noted, it has a particular focus on health, business and justice equality in the criminal justice system. I want to highlight in particular that it was vital to fair corporate licensing, especially those who have been criminalized and disenfranchised by marijuana laws in the past.
Second, the Social Justice Reinvestment Fund, an important structure in this legislation, provides resources that benefit and nurture those people, neighborhoods, communities, and families who are most affected by the various enforcement of marijuana laws. This bill makes Virginia a national leader as we draw on many uncomfortable truths about marijuana legalization and the true meaning of many Virgins but one Commonwealth. “
The new language, which is also included in Northam’s amendments, gives the state’s in-depth cannabis control agency the power to remove licenses from any cannabis company that does not remain neutral while its workers seek to unionize General Assembly.
But the legalization of adult use in Virginia was initially partisan – neither the House nor the Senate bill attracted sponsors or co-sponsors from Republicans. That hasn’t stopped the Democrats in their efforts. When the Democrats overturned both houses in 2019, they regained control of the legislature and governor for the first time in more than two decades.
“This is another example of Democrats, yes Democrats, listening to the Virgins and responding to the will of the people,” said Northam, “from expanding health care to over 500,000 people to ending gun legislation, criminal justice and the law Police reform. ” the death penalty in Virginia, fairer electoral laws, the promotion of clean energy, getting a deserved raise for our teachers and government employees, and legalizing the recreational use of marijuana in Virginia. The Democrats have implemented these and many other initiatives. “
Nationwide poll data released on February 2, 2021 by the Watson Center for Civic Leadership at Christopher Newport University showed that 68% of registered voters in Virginia, including the majority of Democrats and Republicans, support the legalization of adult cannabis. That reflected the 68% of Americans who support legalization, according to a November 2020 Gallup poll.
According to JLARC, a fully legal cannabis industry in Virginia will create more than 11,000 jobs in sectors that range from agriculture to retail. The cannabis control agency, set to be in place with the laws signed by the governor by July 2021, will oversee the regulations and licenses. The five-member Board of Directors will determine the number of licensees, which cannot exceed 400 retailers, 25 wholesalers, 450 cultivators and 60 product manufacturers.
Many of the provisions of the 300-page bill are subject to readjustment, ie a second review and vote by the members of the General Assembly in 2022. However, other provisions such as simple ownership and home building require no further action.
“In the past two months, I’ve replied more than I can count, ‘How did Virginia legalize cannabis?'” Said Pedini, who also serves as NORML’s development director. She paid tribute to the Democratic leaders at the governor’s signing ceremony and the Virginians who supported efforts to become the first state in the south to legalize cannabis.
“Today and together we celebrate an extraordinary victory for cannabis justice in the Commonwealth,” she said. “I have also mentioned countless times that Virginia is the best prepared state to ever legalize. Both the study and the working group prioritized legalization, which ensures equity, consumer safety and restorative justice. This is why the legislation was successful and on the first attempt. “