Virginia will legalize possession and sales of marijuana soon, making it the 16th U.S. state with legal recreational cannabis. Both houses of the state legislature passed legalization bills Friday, and Governor Ralph Northam has already said he will sign the final legislation into law.
The Virginia House of Delegates approved its bill by a 55-42 margin, and the state Senate passed a separate bill 23-15. The bills are very similar, but will have to be reconciled in a joint House-Senate conference committee before going to the governor.
The new law will make possession legal in the state this July, but recreational sales will not be allowed until Jan. 1, 2024. According to Marijuana Business Daily, the state will create an independent agency to develop regulations and oversee the market. Virginia has a limited medical marijuana program that launched last year, but currently doesn’t allow sales of cannabis flower.
The new law will impose a 21 percent tax on recreational cannabis products, in addition to the state’s six percent sales tax. Local governments will be allowed to add an additional tax of up to three percent.
Under the new law, residents will be allowed to possess up to one ounce of marijuana and cultivate up to four plants for personal use. The law also will expunge some previous marijuana criminal convictions.
This year, there are bills to legalize recreational cannabis moving through several state legislatures. Lawmakers see taxes on marijuana sales as a future boon to their COVID-crippled economies—and cannabis legalization is popular with voters across the political spectrum.
Last November, voters approved recreational cannabis sales in Arizona, Montana, New Jersey and South Dakota—and even solidly conservative Mississippi passed a medical marijuana law.
A poll taken last week showed that 68 percent of Virginia adults support cannabis legalization, according to Marijuana Moment. And while Virginia Republicans are split on the issue (51 percent support), a large majority of GOP legislators voted against the legalization bills, with some bizarrely referring in public statements to marijuana “overdoses and deaths.”