Virginia General Assembly Considers Legalizing Marijuana

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A bill that would legalize recreational adult use of marijuana was presented and discussed in a Virginia General Assembly subcommittee Tuesday morning.

If the bill passes, recreational marijuana could be legal in the commonwealth in two years.

"The prohibition of cannabis in the commonwealth and in our country has failed, and with this bill is a step forward in recognizing that in a responsible way," said state Sen. Adam Ebbin (D), who sponsors the bill.

The bill would legalize possession and use for anyone 21 and older and allow people to grow up to two mature marijuana plants at home for personal use.

Marijuana edibles could be sold, too, which pulmonologist Dr. Jim Avery says attracts teens and could result in addiction.


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“This is the exact same playbook that big tobacco did years ago: Hook 'em when they're young and you get a customer for life," he said.

There's also concern about enforcing laws against driving under the influence of marijuana.

"Arrests are made based solely on the observations of the officer and are very subjective,” Loudoun County Sheriff Mike Chapman said. “This makes DUI enforcement and keeping our roads safe all the more difficult."

Gov. Ralph Northam supports legalization and a 21% tax on marijuana products, which is on the lower end of what other states with legal marijuana use. 

The tax revenue would support education and communities disproportionately impacted by prohibition, which Virginia's bipartisan policy audit and review commission found significantly affects Black and Hispanic Virginians more than whites.

“There are five principles embedded in the bill,” Ebbin said. “They include social, racial and economic equity; public health protections for young people; upholding our clean indoor air act; and data collection so that we can make sure that things are happening properly and adjust them if they're not.”

The full General Assembly could vote on legalizing marijuana as early as next month. Then it would head to the governor, who says marijuana is a cash crop that rivals tobacco.

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