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Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam expresses support for legalizing marijuana

With Northam pushing for legalization, and Democratic majorities in both Virginia legislative chambers, there's a high probability such a measure could pass.

RICHMOND, Va. — Monday afternoon, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam expressed his support for fully legalizing marijuana for adults in the commonwealth in 2021.

“It’s time to legalize marijuana in Virginia,” Northam wrote in a release. “Our Commonwealth has an opportunity to be the first state in the South to take this step, and we will lead with a focus on equity, public health, and public safety. I look forward to working with the General Assembly to get this right.”

With Northam pushing for legalization, and Democratic majorities in both Virginia legislative chambers, there's a high probability such a measure could pass.

The governor's office said any legalization bill would have to address:

  • social equity, racial equity, and economic equity
  • public health
  • protections for young people
  • upholding the Virginia Indoor Clean Air Act
  • and data collection. 

Northam said it was important to keep marijuana out of the hands of children, and that the state should focus on "sealing or expunging records of past marijuana-related convictions."

According to NORML, a national nonprofit organization that pushes to legalize marijuana, possessing up to an ounce of marijuana currently carries a civil penalty in Virginia. 

It used to be a $500 penalty with up to a month of jail time, but Virginia reduced the penalty to $25 (with no jail time) in July.

Selling marijuana in Virginia - amounts as low as half an ounce - comes with a mandatory minimum sentence of a year in jail. Selling greater quantities of recreational marijuana with current Virginia law could land people in jail for 50 years, or life.

Another move the state legislature made in July was to protect people from being penalized for medical marijuana.

The first medical marijuana dispensary in Virginia opened in October. That facility was in Bristol.

RELATED: Here are the new Virginia laws going into effect July 1

RELATED: Americans across party lines, regions embrace marijuana

In the 2020 presidential election, five states voted to legalize marijuana in at least some capacity.

New Jersey, Arizona, South Dakota and Montana legalized broad use of the plant, and Mississippi legalized medical marijuana.

Eleven states and Washington, D.C., allowed the recreational use of marijuana before the 2020 election.