SB 1406 “eliminates criminal penalties for simple possession of marijuana,” modifies other charges associated with the drug, and facilitates the “automatic expungement” of individuals imprisoned for certain crimes involving cannabis. The legislation also creates the Virginia Cannabis Control Authority, which “establishes a regulatory structure for the cultivation, manufacture, wholesale, and retail sale of retail marijuana and retail marijuana products.”
“Today, I signed historic legislation legalizing the simple possession of marijuana in Virginia on July 1,” Northam, a Democrat, wrote in a tweet. “We are moving forward in a way that promotes equity, provides a clean slate to those with prior convictions, and reinvests in the communities harmed by over-criminalization.”
The legislation “contains social equity provisions that, among other things, provide support and resources to persons and communities that have been historically and disproportionately affected,” according to a summary. It was initially slated to take effect in January 2024, but lawmakers approved the July 1 start date on April 7.
Republicans expressed concern that the timeline was too rushed.
“I think it’s a bad idea to do this that quickly,” state Sen. Mark Obenshain told the Richmond Times-Dispatch. “It is clear that we are unprepared to address the issues, particularly that are going to relate to children, teenagers, adolescents, and the impact of immediate legalization for them.”
Virginia House Majority Leader Charniele Herring, a Democrat, said the commonwealth is the first “southern state” to approve such legislation.
“What a historic afternoon! Virginia is officially the first southern state to legalize marijuana, I’m so glad to have been able to patron this monumental legislation, and I’m grateful to have @GovernorVA’s support,” she wrote in a tweet.
Virginia joins 17 states that have established regulated programs for adult use of the drug. A total of 36 states, in addition to the District of Columbia, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands, have passed programs to allow the medical use of cannabis, while three states have no public cannabis access program.