The amendment was passed Wednesday to allow simple possession beginning July 1.
It was only February when the Virginia House of Delegates passed a bill to legalize the recreational use and simple possession of marijuana. Initially, the law would have gone into effect in 2024, the year that dispensaries were to open in the commonwealth. Even more recently, after pressure from civil rights activists, Governor Ralph Northam proposed an amendment that was passed Wednesday moving up the legalization to the summer of 2021, three years ahead of schedule.
Just last year, marijuana possession of up to an ounce was decriminalized, marking a historic first for a southern state. What had once meant a $500 fine and 30 days in jail for a first offense (with up to a year for a second or subsequent offense) was now a $25 civil fine. Making simple possession a civil offense rather than a criminal one made getting busted for recreational use the equivalent of a speeding ticket. Not only that, but one could no longer be searched simply due to the reported odor of marijuana. It had long been argued that the criminality of pot possession unfairly targeted young people, particularly those of color. In fact, the Virginia ACLU has reported that black people are 3.4 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than white people, even though the reported usage rates are similar. Possession of more than an ounce is still a criminal offense—the commonwealth considers it "intent to distribute."
Sponsors of the bill passed in February from the House and Senate said at the time they would support moving the date up. Now it's happening and although the marijuana dispensaries will still not be around for a few more years, simple possession will officially be legal.
How do you feel about this new amendment? Let us know in the comments.