Virginia Democratic Governor Ralph Northam is planning to sign a law passed by state lawmakers to legalize marijuana, according to media reports. However, he can change the measure to postpone the start date for legalizing cannabis possession. Virginia lawmakers reached a compromise to legalize cannabis in the state with the passage of House Bill 2312 late last month.
However, a provision of the measure widely criticized by proponents of criminal law reform is delaying the legalization of marijuana possession until legal adult cannabis retail sales begin July 1, 2024. Proponents of the provision argue that illegal operators could enter the market while regulations are being drafted for licensed cannabis companies.
VPM, a Virginia public media broadcaster, reports that sources familiar with the governor’s talks with lawmakers expect the possession of an ounce or less of marijuana to be legalized starting July 1 this year. Northam said in an interview on Wednesday that he would change the bill.
“Personally, I don’t think we should arrest or punish anyone for something we want to legalize,” said Northam. “I plan to put a number of amendments to the legislature and I hope we can push them forward.”
Northam has until the end of the month to return the bill to lawmakers with any changes. Legislators are then expected to vote on any changes the governor makes on April 7th.
Delay in legalization criticized
After the legislature passed HB 2312, Senator Adam Ebbin, the main sponsor of the Senate version of the bill, commented on the compromise nature of the measure.
“It was a lot of work getting here, but I would say we are on the way to a just law that allows responsible adults to use cannabis,” said Ebbin.
House Majority Leader Charniele Herring said that while she did not believe the measure was perfect, the legislation was “bill” that would remove racial inequalities in the enforcement of drug laws in Virginia.
However, other Democrats, including Senator Jennifer McClellan, said legalizing marijuana possession should go into effect well before 2024. They hope Northam, who has been vocal in favor of cannabis policy reform, will change the date before the law is returned to lawmakers.
“If we had already made the decision to ditch simple ownership, we could have done so today and ended disproportionate fines on color communities,” said McClellan.
“Let’s be absolutely clear – this bill is not legalization and there are many steps between here and legalization,” she added.
Last year, Virginia decriminalized cannabis possession and made the crime a civil violation punishable by a fine of no more than $ 25. However, critics say the racial gaps in enforcement still persist. Advocacy leader Chelsea Higgs Wise, Marijuana Justice, said the 2024 legalization date felt “like a blow to racial justice.”