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State leaders support making smoking marijuana legal this summer

Posted at 5:19 PM, Mar 26, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-02 15:19:40-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- Virginia's House speaker on Friday said she supports moving up the date for legalizing adult recreational use of marijuana in Virginia to this summer, a key change pushed by advocates who have sharply criticized legislation approved by lawmakers last month that would delay legalization until 2024.

Democratic Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn announced on Twitter that she will back an amendment to the bill with a July 1 legalization date.

“The time is now for us to act,” she said.

Filler-Corn said she will also push for other amendments, including a provision that calls for people who are currently incarcerated for nonviolent marijuana-related offenses to have an opportunity for resentencing.

Filler-Corn is also calling for an amendment that would automatically seal marijuana-related criminal records for nonviolent offenses on July 1. She also wants the legislation amended to legalize the private cultivation of “a limited number” of marijuana plants for personal use.

Filler-Corn said “legalization alone is not enough.”

“We must also address the historic targeting of black and brown individuals over non-violent marijuana-related offenses,” she tweeted, referring to the three additional amendments she has proposed.

Last month, lawmakers approved a bill to legalize marijuana for adult recreational use, but not until 2024, when retail sales of the drug would begin and regulations would go into effect to control the marijuana marketplace in Virginia.

With that vote, Virginia became the first Southern state to vote to legalize marijuana, joining 15 other states and the District of Columbia. But the bill was roundly criticized by some lawmakers and advocates who wanted simple possession legalized quickly to end penalties for people with small amounts of marijuana.

Lawmakers last year decriminalized marijuana, making simple possession a civil penalty that can be punished by a fine of no more than $25.

The legislation to legalize simple possession beginning Jan. 1, 2024, has been on Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam's desk for a month now.

He has a deadline of Wednesday to send amendments to the House and Senate for their consideration.

Northam has not said publicly what amendments he plans to make, but suggested in an interview with VPM News on Wednesday that he, too, wanted a faster timeline on legalization.

“I personally don’t think we should be arresting or penalizing somebody for something we’re getting ready to legalize,” Northam said.

The Senate had sought to legalize simple possession on July 1 to immediately end punishments for people with small amounts of marijuana, but House Democrats had argued that legalization without a legal market for marijuana could promote the growth of the black market.

The nearly three-year delay in legalizing simple possession in the bill drew sharp criticism from the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia, Marijuana Justice and other racial justice advocacy groups.