Virginia Lawmakers Pass Legislation to Legalize Recreational Marijuana
Virginia put itself on the path to becoming the 16th state to legalize recreational marijuana this February 5 Friday.
The Virginia state legislature voted in favor of legalization with plans to begin sales of recreational marijuana by 2024. The vote on Friday was the culmination of two year’s worth of smaller initiatives that were pushed through the legislative process by enthusiastic Democratic lawmakers.
Both the Senate and the House of Delegates are under Democractic control, a fact that is largely responsible for the smooth passage of the bill. With Democrat Ralph Northam as Governor, the bill is expected to be signed into law when it reaches the governor’s desk.
The Path to Legalization
The passage of HB 2312 and SB 1406 respectively this past Friday is a fitting conclusion to the path that Democratic lawmakers have been on since they won control of both the Senate and House of Delegates in 2019. After their historic win, Democratic lawmakers, starting with Attorney General Mark Herring began laying down a framework working toward legalization.
The state had previously attempted to remove criminal penalties for possession of small amounts of marijuana in 2015, but those efforts ultimately failed. The new charge to legalize marijuana in the state began in 2020. Delegate Charniele Herring introduced HB 972, which significantly reduced the penalties for simple possession of marijauna.
Previously, people caught with small amounts of marijuana were subject to a $500 fine and up to 30-days in jail, even for a first offence. Herring’s HB 972 passed and was quickly followed by Senator Adam Ebbin’s similar SB 2 that also decriminalized possession of marijuana, while allowing people convicted of marijuana-related crimes to have their records expunged.
A Review Committee Forms
An amendment included in HB 972 called for the creation of a Legislative Working Group tasked with examining the possible outcomes of legalizing recreational marijuana in the state. The Virginia Marijuana Legalization Working Group was formed in the summer of 2020 and consisted of members of the Governor’s cabinet as well as various other stakeholders including policy experts, law enforcement officials, public health professionals as well as community leaders.
The Working Group issued a report in November of 2020. Among their other findings, they found that a well-regulated, legalized marijuana marketplace in Virginia could generate between $30-60 million in revenue in the first year. Five years after legalization that range would increase to $154-300 million a year. The report also found that a legal marijuana marketplace would create between 11,000 and 18,000 new jobs over five years.
The Moment Arrives
Based on the Virginia Marijuana Legalization Working Group’s findings, Governor Northam announced in November of 2020 that he would sign any legislation that legalized recreational marijuana in the state. HB 2312 and SB 1406 are the result of that announcement. The bills not only legalize recreational marijuana but provide an avenue for people with marijuna-related arrests to seek expungements of their criminal records.
Huge win!! My marijuana legalization bill, HB2312, just passed through the full House. This legislation will provide long overdue justice for so many marginalized communities in Virginia. pic.twitter.com/g4XjtVjj5H
— Charniele Herring (@C_Herring) February 5, 2021
Marijuna will be heavily taxed by the state, as it has set a sales tax of 21% on all cannabis products, while local municipalities can also add their own excise taxes. The increased revenue is expected to be directed toward the health and education initiatives, as well as addiction treatment programs. Delegate Herring, who sponsored the original decriminalization bill, said in a Tweet that the bill would
“provide long overdue justice for so many marginalized communities in Virginia”.