Virginia first Southern state to legalize recreational marijuana

RICHMOND, Va. — Starting July 1, recreational marijuana will be legal in Virginia.

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Virginia became the first Southern state to legalize cannabis on Wednesday, as lawmakers approved Gov. Ralph Northam’s proposed changes to a bill that will allow adults to possess and cultivate small amounts of the drug.

People will be allowed to possess up to 1 ounce, which is about 28 grams, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported.

Northam amended legislation passed by the General Assembly to push the legalization date from 2024, WTKR reported. The Senate vote was 20-20, and Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax voted in favor of the measure to break the tie, the Times-Dispatch reported.

Virginia joins nearly 20 other states that have voted to legalize recreational marijuana. Sales will remain illegal until 2024, and public consumption and driving under the influence will continue to be against the law, the newspaper reported.

“This is not going to generate some ganjafest at Jiffy Lube pavilion out in the parking lot, because that is smoking in public,” Democratic Sen. Scott Surovell said. “Just like you can’t drink in public, you can’t smoke in public under this.”

Anyone found with more than an ounce but less than a pound will face a $25 civil penalty, the Times-Dispatch reported. Possession of more than a pound will constitute a felony. People will be allowed to share up to an ounce of marijuana with other people, as long as there is no exchange of money or goods, the newspaper reported. People can also grow up to four plants at their homes, WTKR reported.

People under the age of 21 will face a $25 civil penalty for possession of any marijuana and undergo treatment and education.

“I think providing a safe, legal means for folks to produce while we set up the regulatory framework is important,” Sen. Jeremy McPike, D-Prince William, told WRIC.

Sen. Bryce Reeves, R-Spotsylvania, told the television station he was concerned with how quickly the measure passed after the governor’s modifications.

“There is a right way and a wrong way to do this,” Reeves said. “We are doing this the wrong way by trying to rush another bill with more than 50,000 substantial changes.”

The General Assembly rejected the speedy legalization timeline last month, the Times-Dispatch reported. Northam revived the measure with amendments to the bill, and his changes allowed the legislation to pass by a 53-44 vote.

“The hard-fought compromise that barely made it out of this chamber and over to the Senate has just been discarded,” Republican Assembly Delegate Chris Head said. “And why is that? It’s because some activists want marijuana legalized and they want it legalized now, consequences be damned.”