Virginia House, Senate pass marijuana legalization, end most mandatory minimums

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Both chambers of the Virginia General Assembly passed bills that would legalize the recreational sale and use of marijuana and end most of the state’s mandatory minimum sentence requirements.

House Bill 2312 and Senate Bill 1406, would both legalize the sale, possession and consumption of marijuana in the commonwealth, but some differences in the proposals by the chambers will need to be worked out before they can send an agreed-upon version of the bill to Gov. Ralph Northam’s desk.

Both bills would set up a licensing structure for retail, transport and cultivation of the product and establish a new regulatory agency: the Cannabis Control Authority. The sale would be available for adults aged 21 years or older beginning in 2024 and would require ID checks for sale, similar to alcohol sales. The bulk of the tax revenue for both bills would go to at-risk K-12 education.

One of the main differences between the two bills is whether localities would be able to opt out of retail sales of marijuana. The Senate version would allow the opt outs, but the House version would not.

Legal marijuana has support from Democratic lawmakers and Gov. Ralph Northam, but substantial opposition from Republican. The Senate version passed 23-15 and the House version passed 55-42. The bills will now go to the other chamber in which committees will consider whether to make changes on the legislation. If the chambers cannot agree on specifics, the bills will head to a joint conference committee with representatives from both chambers.

Both chambers also passed legislation that would eliminate most of the state’s mandatory minimum sentences. Similar to the marijuana legislation, those bills will have to work their ways through the other chamber as lawmakers try to settle differences on specifics.

Senate Bill 1443 passed the Senate 21-17 and House Bill 2331 passed the House 58-42. It has support from Democratic leadership and opposition from Republican leadership.

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