On February 5th, state lawmakers voted to legalize cannabis in Virginia and establish a recreational market. Both chambers’ initiative would legalize possession of an ounce of marijuana or less, and begin the process of expunging certain cannabis-related misdemeanors on July 1st. Retail sales are predicted to start in 2024, per the plans of both the House and Senate.
Virginia already has a medical marijuana program, but it’s limited compared to most states. Even so, the medical program is expected to be valued at $50 million in sales by 2024, and the adult-use market is poised to grow even bigger.
Here’s what you need to know about the newly introduced adult-use legislation in Virginia:
The vote passed through the Virginia General Assembly on February 5th
Both chambers passed the bill to legalize cannabis for adult use at the beginning of February. The bill was introduced by Senator Adam Ebbin, who said “I think that Virginia is on a path to an equitable legalization plan for marijuana. There have been a few bumps, but I’m hopeful that we’ll have a polished bill we can agree upon in the next few weeks,” said Sen. Adam Ebbin.
The House passed the bill 55-42
House Democrats were in favor of the bill, while Republicans were opposing it. The House’s version of the bill would maintain all cannabis criminal penalties until January 1st, 2024, when the first adult-use retail sale is set to take place.
The Senate advanced its modified version 23-15
One of the Senate’s changes include allowing Virginia jurisdictions to opt out of retail stores, and will require a second vote by state lawmakers next year. The House and Senate need to agree on these changes before Gov. Ralph Northam signs the proposal. The governor has already voiced his support for the bill, and is expected to sign it.
The biggest portion of tax revenue from cannabis sales will be invested in at-risk children
One of the most exciting things about both versions of the bill is where the tax revenue is going. The biggest portion of the revenue is set to fund Pre-K for at-risk children in the state of Virginia. “Reforming our marijuana laws is one way to ensure that Virginia is a more just state that works better for everyone. It also will eventually bring in tax revenue that can be used to further make sure we are providing equitable access to opportunity. For example, just half of the potential annual revenue could pay for two years of quality Pre-K to every one of Virginia’s most vulnerable three- and four-year-olds—children who deserve the best start in life,” said Gov. Ralph Northam.
One of the bill’s chief patrons is a Black woman
Louise Lucas has been representing Virginia’s 18th district since 1992. She is one of the chief patrons of this historical bill, along with fellow Virginia Senator Adam Ebbin. She is the floor leader of her Democrat colleagues in the state Senate, and because Democrats won a majority of seats in the 2019 Virginia senate election, Lucas succeeded Republican Stephen Newman as the Virgina Senate’s President pro tempore. This makes her the first woman and the first African-American to hold this position.
The future of Virginia’s adult-use market
According to a recent study conducted by the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission, legalizing and taxing commercial cannabis sales in Virginia could generate between $154 and $308 million by the fifth year of sales.
The legalization will hopefully bring much-needed social change, too. The study also found that Black Virginians makeup a disproportionately high number of cannabis-related offenses, and with this bill – that can be resolved.