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Virginia House Approves Marijuana Legalization Bill, With Senate Vote Coming Soon: "This legislation

The Virginia House of Delegates on Friday approved a bill to legalize marijuana in the Commonwealth, with a Senate vote scheduled for later in the day on that chamber’s separate version.

The bills have been heard and amended by numerous committees and subcommittees since Gov. Ralph Northam (D) and top lawmakers unveiled their legalization proposal last month.

The House approved the final version of its bill in a 55-42 vote, with two abstentions.

Some members spoke in opposition to the legislation during Friday’s hearing, claiming that legalization would lead to increased youth use and impaired driving.

Del. Don Scott (D) defended the proposal and emphasized that it “provides social equity and helps improve those communities who have been most impacted and harmed by the prohibition against cannabis.”

Friday marks an important mid-session deadline to cross over bills from one chamber to the other. The House version will now head to the Senate; and if the Senate approves its version later in the day, that will be transmitted to the House for consideration.

After that point it is expected that a bicameral conference committee will be empaneled to resolve the differences between the two chambers’ bills and merge them into a single proposal that the full legislature can send to the governor’s desk.

Under the legislation, adults 21 and older would be able to purchase and possess up to one ounce of cannabis and cultivate up to four plants for personal use, two of which could be mature. It also provides for automatic expungements for certain prior marijuana convictions.

Tax revenue from cannabis sales would partly fund pre-K education programs at at-risk youth and would support public health initiatives.

Issues that came up in committees and will likely be debated in conference include: the regulatory structure for overseeing the industry, qualifications for social equity cannabis licensees, local control over how and where marijuana businesses can operate, home cultivation rights, vertical integration rules for the market and timelines for implementing the end of prohibition.

Support for legalizing marijuana is strong in Virginia, according to a poll released this week. It found that a majority of adults in the Commonwealth (68 percent) favor adult-use legalization, and that includes a slim majority of Republicans (51 percent).

The legislature has also taken up a number of other more modest cannabis reform proposals this session.

Bills to allow medical patients to access whole-flower cannabis in addition to oils, facilitate automatic expungements for certain marijuana convictions, protect employment rights of medical cannabis patients and allow those in hospice and nursing facilities to access medical marijuana have each advanced in recent days.

Virginia lawmakers passed separate legislation last year that decriminalized possession of up to an ounce of marijuana, replacing existing penalties with a $25 civil fine and no threat of jail time. The law took effect last July.

This story is developing and will be updated with the results of the Senate vote.

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