Virginia State House and Senate Votes to Legalize Marijuana Starting in 2024

Virginia's state Senate and House of Delegates approved marijuana legalization bills on Friday, paving the way for the statewide legal consumption of marijuana.

Virginia Governor Ralph Northam's signature is required before the bill becomes law. If Northam signs, marijuana would be legal for individuals 21 years old and older to consume on a recreational basis. Virginia would become the 16th state to legalize marijuana.

Introduced by Virginia Senator Adam Ebbin, the Senate bill would eliminate criminal penalties for simple possession and automatically expunge certain marijuana-related criminal charges from some individuals' records. After some debate, the bill passed the Senate with a vote of 23-15. A similar version of the bill was passed by the House with a vote of 55-42. Lawmakers are expected to iron out the differences between the two bills before sending a final bill to Northam.

"I think that Virginia is on a path to an equitable legalization plan for marijuana," Ebbin said Friday, according to the Associated Press. "There have been a few bumps, but I'm hopeful that we'll have a polished bill we can agree upon in the next few weeks."

virginia ralph northam marijuana legalization
Virginia Governor Ralph Northam is expected to sign legislation that would legalize marijuana for adults in the state when it crosses his desk. Zach Gibson/Getty

Measures in both bills call for the creation of the Virginia Cannabis Control Authority, which would establish regulations for the production and sale of marijuana on a wholesale and retail level. Northam is expected to sign the final bill into law, potentially allowing marijuana sales to begin on a retail and wholesale level by 2024.

Northam has expressed support for legalizing marijuana in Virginia.

"Our Commonwealth has an opportunity to be the first state in the South to take this step," Northam said in a November 2020 statement, " and we will lead with a focus on equity, public health, and public safety." According to a statement Northam's office sent to Newsweek, both of the bills "working their way through the Virginia Senate and House of Delegates are governor's bills."

Northam cited a 2020 report from Virginia's Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission that showed that Black Virginians are arrested and convicted for marijuana-related offenses three times more often than white Virginians. Northam said that any legalization legislation should involve social equity license programs, reinvestment in communities and the sealing or expunging marijuana-related criminal conviction records.

Taxes on state-sanctioned marijuana sales could be a boon to Virginia's economy. The report said that within years after commercial sales of marijuana began, the state could net somewhere between $147 to $250 million from the sale of marijuana at a tax rate of 20 percent.

A legal marijuana industry in Virginia could also be instrumental in creating more jobs. According to the Commission's report, up to approximately 18,000 jobs would be created within a few years of the beginning of the industry in Virginia. That estimate represents between 0.3 percent to 0.5 percent of Virginia's workforce.

Updated 2/9/2021 12:10 a.m. EST: This story has been updated with a statement from Governor Ralph Northam's office.