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Virginia lawmakers will approve marijuana legalization, but not until 2024

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RICHMOND, VA – Virginia lawmakers on Saturday finally approved a bill legalizing cannabis for adult use, but not until 2024, when the drug is expected to begin retail sales.

With a compromise bill cleared by the State House and Senate, Virginia is the first southern state to vote for marijuana legalization, joining 15 other states and the District of Columbia. Legislation now goes to Democratic Governor Ralph Northam, who supports legalization.

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The bill was a top priority for the Democrats. They identified legalization as a necessary step to end unequal treatment of people of color under current marijuana laws.

However, talks between House and Senate Democrats have become tense in recent days as the two houses argued over significant differences between their versions of the legislation.

Negotiations continued until Saturday when details of a compromise agreement were made public in the late afternoon.

Under the laws passed, possession of up to one ounce (28.3 grams) of marijuana will become legal from January 1, 2024. At the same time, sales will begin and the Virginia marijuana market control regulations will come into effect.

According to a provision the Senate Democrats insisted on, the legislation will include an adjournment clause requiring a second General Assembly vote, but only on the legal framework and criminal penalties for several offenses, including underage use and public use of marijuana . A second vote on legalization is not required.

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The Senate tried to legalize simple ownership earlier that year to immediately end the punishment of people with small amounts of marijuana, but House Democrats argued that legalization without a legal market for marijuana could fuel black market growth.

Legislature decriminalized marijuana last year and made simple possession a civil penalty, punishable by a fine of no more than $ 25.

Why the three year delay?

The three-year delay in legalizing simple possession has been harshly criticized by the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia, the Marijuana Justice, and other racial justice advocacy groups.

“This bill does not promote the cause of equality or racial justice in Virginia. It is the product of a closed legislative process that puts the interests of recreational marijuana smokers ahead of people and color communities, ”the groups said in a statement prior to the vote.

But Senator Adam Ebbin, the main sponsor of the Senate bill, said the compromise deal was a good start for legalization.

“It was a lot of work to get here, but I would say we are on our way to a just law that will allow responsible adults to use cannabis,” he said during the debate.

Groups fully opposed to legalization expressed concern that it could lead to an increase in drug-disabled traffic accidents and marijuana use among adolescents.

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Beth Edmonds