RICHMOND, Va. - Governor Northam and his administration unveiled legislation Wednesday that, if passed, would legalize marijuana for adult use in the Commonwealth.
According to the bill outline, the possession limit for the legal amount would be no more than one ounce of marijuana, which is considered the norm based on other states.
If passed, those with prior misdemeanor marijuana convictions would be automatic expunged from record.
The bill proposes a 21% state tax and includes that funding will at first come from a loan to ABC and then will be collected by tax revenue.
The bill outlines that ABC will be charged with standing up and regulating the Commonwealth's marijuana industry.
"We really thought that the ABC was the right choice for this, because ABC is really the only other state agency that has experience in regulating a controlled product in one that was previously fully prohibited," Virginia Deputy Sec. of Agriculture and Forestry Brad Copenhaver told News 3.
An eight member Cannabis Control Advisory Board (within ABC) would be created and members would be made up of expertise in the industry, as appointed by the governor.
There will be five types of licenses to obtain according to the new bill: cultivation, processing, distribution/wholesale, retail, and testing.
The legislation would also create a licensing program that would help avoid setting application requirements that are likely to have a disparate impact on applicants that come from historically disadvantage communities. It would also dedicate low or no-interest loans for qualified applicants, administered by a community development finance organization.
According to the legislation, if passed, each household can have up to 2 mature and 2 immature plants for personal use and plants will need to be out of public view. The bill will make it illegal for a person to sell the marijuana grown without licenses.
If passed, Copenhaver said sale and consumption of adult-use products wouldn't start until January 1, 2023.
Copenhaver added it's important the state take a slow and measured approach if adult-use marijuana is legalized.
"It's very difficult to kind of just flip the switch and have something like this happen," he said. "We need to be thoughtful about what regulations are in place, especially when it comes to product safety, and ensuring that all the products that are out there in the marketplace have been tested and are safe to consume."
"It takes a while to go through the regulatory process, to hear public comments, to talk to technical experts, and actually get those regulations set up and then another few months after that to kind of get the licenses out the door and set up that legal system," Copenhaver added.
Copenhaver told News 3 that, if passed, it's crucial to have the legal system and sales start on the same day.
"We know marijuana is being sold and consumed in Virginia now, but it's via an illicit market," he said. "We want to capture that illicit market, and we have to build trust in the system that we're creating. That the market is, one, going to provide products that are regulated and safe, but two, that the products that are out there are going to meet the consumer demand for those products."
Northam is also introducing that revenues dedicated to areas including the Cannabis Equity Reinvestment Fund, substance abuse prevention and treatment, and public health programs.
Copenhaver said the Cannabis Equity Reinvestment Fund will be a way to get money back out into communities disproportionately harmed by marijuana criminalization.
"There will be a board that will oversee that fund, providing grants to scholarship programs, youth mentoring, job training and placement, workforce development and a number of other programs to help those in those communities who have been harmed by criminalization," he said.
Overall, Northam's legislation will focus on five key areas, including social, racial, and economic equity:
1. Social equity, racial equity, and economic equity: Legislation will focus on (a) funding and a process for expunging marijuana-related offenses; (b) promoting diverse participation in the newly-created cannabis industry, and (c) reinvesting in the communities harmed by prohibition.
2. Public health: Legislation will include substance abuse prevention efforts in schools and communities and establish a framework to prevent harm from legalization.
3. Protections for young people: Northam will require any legislation include protections for Virginia’s youth, including age limits, mandatory ID checks, and education campaigns.
4. Upholding the Virginia Indoor Clean Air Act: Legislation will be aligned with the Virginia Indoor Clean Air Act prohibiting indoor tobacco use, which Governor Northam championed as a state Senator.
5. Data collection: Legislation will ensure Virginia collects appropriate and ongoing information on safety, health, and equity.
Copenhaver told News 3 marijuana is already decriminalized in Virginia, currently being a $25 civil penalty for possession. He said this would remain the same until cannabis becomes legal for adult-use.
Northam's administration plans to introduce this bill to the state Senate soon.