Virginia became the first Southern state to legalize marijuana Wednesday, as lawmakers voted to approve Gov. Ralph Northam’s proposed changes to a bill that will allow adults to possess and cultivate small amounts of the drug starting in July. Northam sent the bill back to lawmakers substantially changed from the version that squeaked out of the General Assembly in February, the AP reports. The amendments lawmakers agreed to Wednesday would accelerate the timeline of legalization by about three years, well before retail sales would begin, a move that's been cheered by racial justice advocates. Democrats said the bill was a matter of urgency, a necessary step to end what state figures show is a disparate treatment of people of color under current marijuana laws.
The final version of the legislation would allow adults 21 and up to legally possess up to one ounce of cannabis without the intent to distribute beginning July 1. It also would allow the home cultivation of up to four plants per household beginning July 1. Public use of the drug will be prohibited. "This is not going to generate some ganjafest at Jiffy Lube pavilion out in the parking lot, because that is smoking in public. Just like you can’t drink in public, you can’t smoke in public under this," Democratic Sen. Scott Surovell said. It will be years before legal retail sales follow legalized possession. The bill lays out the complex process of creating a new state agency to oversee the marijuana marketplace, with sales beginning and regulations taking effect on Jan. 1, 2024.