Proposals to legalize adult-use recreational cannabis in Virginia are set for hearings when the General Assembly meets in January. With the current Senate climate and Governor Ralph Northam’s office, “certainly open to [the idea of legalization],” there appears to be a very real chance of passing.
The movement in Virginia comes as part of a nationwide stampede to legalize marijuana, largely due to its pandemic-proof benefits to the economy. With fifteen total states in the U.S now boasting legal marijuana, Virginia would become the first southern state to authorize recreational use of the substance.
The state of Virginia has been relaxing its stance on cannabis since 2017, when it first allowed residents to use CBD for medical purposes. Since then, that program expanded to include a full-fledged medical marijuana program by 2019. In 2020, legislation was passed that reduced possession penalties of marijuana to a minor $25 civil fine.
With rapidly shifting public opinion in favor of the measure, lawmakers in the state believe it might be high-time to bring a proposal to the floor of the General Assembly. However, even with Democratic majorities in the House and Senate last year, those in favor of legalizing cannabis were disappointed to find members of their party rejecting their own legalization bills.
Democrats have framed decriminalization and legalization measures as a meaningful step towards equitable treatment of black Virginians. This population has been disparately prosecuted for cannabis-related crimes, despite studies showing that they use the substance at similar rates to white people in the state.
While Democratic leaders (including Governor Northam) believed that it would be an irresponsible move to legalize the drug before studying the approach of other states, with two prominent studies reviewing regulatory models and tax schemes over the past year, legislators appear more equipped to move towards legalization in 2021.