Virginia General Assembly votes to legalize marijuana, but not until 2024

Posted at 3:13 PM, Feb 27, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-27 22:11:01-05

RICHMOND, Va. (AP/WTKR) - Virginia lawmakers have given final approval to a bill that will legalize marijuana for adult recreational use, but not until January 2024.

Both the Senate and House of Delegates approved a compromise bill on Saturday evening, the final business day of the General Assembly session.

The bill allows for the simple possession and retail sale of marijuana beginning in 2024. Lawmakers will have to vote again next year on the regulatory framework of the bill. Supporters said it was a step forward.

"It's been a lot of work to get here, but I would say that we're on the path towards an equitable law to allow responsible adults to use cannabis," said Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria).

The compromise bill caused consternation for progressive Democrats, who felt the legislation didn't go far enough to address racial disparities or criminal justice. Del. Marcia Price (D-Newport News) called the bill "business before justice." She and several other Democrats simply didn't vote.

Republicans blasted the bill and complained Democrats were jamming it through. None of them wound up supporting the final bill.

The House of Delegates and Senate passed their own versions of legalization earlier in the session. Each chamber has to pass the same bill before it advances to Gov. Northam's desk to be signed into law, leading to the compromise 264 page bill.

The bill was finally published Saturday afternoon, just hours before the final vote. "We have one chance to do this right. You cannot put the genie back in the bottle and I am incredibly concerned that we are rushing through this conference report right now," Sen. Jennifer McClellan (D-Richmond) said before voting later to support it following a Senate recess.

Several lawmakers said they hope Gov. Northam will address some of their concerns through amendments before it officially becomes law.

In a statement , Gov. Northam's spokesperson said Virginia took a "major step," adding he "looks forward to continuing to improve this legislation."

If signed into law, Virginia would become the first Southern state and the 16th state in the nation to legalize small amounts of marijuana.

Lawmakers have been planning to finish most of the work for the year on Saturday, but technically adjourn on Monday for procedural reasons.