Virginia is the first state in the South to legalize the recreational use of marijuana, the Associated Press reports.
Starting in July, residents of that state will be able to possess and cultivate small amounts of marijuana. Lawmakers approved a number of changes Gov. Ralph Northam made in the bill that passed in the General Assembly back in February. The amendments accelerate the timeline of legalization by about three years; retail sales would begin in 2024.
According to NPR, Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax broke the 20-20 vote tie in Virginia’s Senate to pass the bill. No Republicans backed the measure.
The final version of the bill allows adults 21 and older to legally carry up to one ounce (28.3 grams) of weed without the intent to distribute starting July 1. Residents can also cultivate up to four plants per household, also beginning July 1. The downside is that people can’t use it in public.
Here is more on the bill, per the AP:
During the legislative session, the Senate sought to legalize simple possession beginning in July, but House Democrats argued that legalization without a legal market for marijuana could promote the growth of the black market. The bill as passed in February would not have legalized simple possession until 2024.
Herring said Wednesday that home cultivation would give Virginians a way to legally acquire cannabis while the retail market is being put in place.
As with many marijuana legalization bills across the nation, there is a social justice component to Virginia’s measure, per NPR:
The bill specifies a category of “social equity” applicants, such as people who’ve been charged with marijuana-related offenses or who graduated from historically Black colleges and universities. Those entrepreneurs will be given preference when the state grants licensing.
Mike Thomas, a Black hemp cultivator based in Richmond who served jail time for marijuana possession, said those entrepreneurs deserved special attention. Thomas said he looked forward to offering his own line of organic, craft cannabis.
“Being that the arrest rate wasn’t the same for everyone, I don’t think the business opportunities should be the same for everyone,” Thomas said.
Virginia will join more than a dozen other states—including New York, where Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a bill last month—where use of marijuana is legal. Most other states have medical marijuana use, while Montana and Nebraska are the lone two states with total prohibition.