A Virginia lawmaker has filed a bill to legalize marijuana for adult use in the state.
The move comes one month after Gov. Ralph Northam (D) included provisions to lay the groundwork for cannabis legalization in a budget proposal that also calls for millions of dollars to support expungements.
The bill from Del. Steve Heretick (D) is the first of what could be several proposals to end marijuana prohibition that the legislature sees this session.
The new legislation would allow adults 21 and older to purchase and possess up to an ounce of cannabis. It calls for the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services to regulate the marijuana program, as it currently does for hemp.
Adults could also grow up to three mature and three immature plants for personal use under the bill.
“This bill is built upon the lessons of other states throughout the country which have enacted similar reforms,” Heretick said in a press release.
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A 9.6 percent tax would be imposed on cannabis sales under the bill, which was first reported by WTKR-TV, though local jurisdictions could tack on their own taxes for a maximum total of 15 percent. The municipalities would also be allowed to dictate whether marijuana businesses can operate in their area.
Most of the tax revenue from cannabis would go to the state’s general fund (67 percent) while the remaining 33 percent would be invested in a fund meant to promote public education about marijuana.
“With the support of Virginia’s Attorney General, Mark Herring, and a growing consensus of bipartisan support from legislators and local leaders around the Commonwealth, and now Virginia Governor Northam and key members of his administration, this is legislation which has now matured for enactment,” Heretick said. “I look forward to a robust and inclusive conversation about the manner in which Virginia will act on this legislation this year.”
Jenn Michelle Pedini, executive director of Virginia NORML, told Marijuana Moment that the “Virginia legislature must act swiftly to equitably legalize and regulate the responsible use of cannabis by adults in the 2021 General Assembly.”
“The governor, attorney general, and Virginians have been clear—it is time to legalize cannabis the Commonwealth. Virginia NORML looks forward to continuing our work with legislators like Delegate Heretick to get the job done,” they said.
The governor had campaigned on merely decriminalizing possession, but he publicly backed broader legalization of marijuana for adult use in November, just as a legislative commission issued recommendations on how to most effectively enact such a system.
A working group comprised of four Virginia cabinet secretaries and other top officials submitted separate marijuana legalization recommendations to the governor and lawmakers in November, and that included investing in social equity and expunging prior cannabis convictions.
The report, which was required as part of a cannabis decriminalization bill that the governor signed last year, was authored by the governor-appointed secretaries of the state departments of agriculture and forestry, finance, health and human resources and public safety and homeland security.
Northam has stressed the need to include restorative justice in reform legislation, including expungements.
Both the House of Delegates and Senate passed separate expungements bills during a special session this year, but negotiators failed to work out a deal on a unified approach.
Meanwhile, legislation to stop police from searching people or seizing property based solely on the smell of marijuana in Virginia is set to take effect after lawmakers adopted recommended changes from the governor in October.
Also during the recently concluded special session, Northam signed another bill that will allow people issued summonses for cannabis offenses under the state’s new decriminalization law to prepay their civil penalty rather than having show up in court.
Read the new Virginia cannabis legalization bill below:
Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.