On Friday, the Virginia legislature voted to approve “adult-use” marijuana legalization, making it the 16th state in America to legalize weed.
In a largely party-line vote, Virginia became the first state in the South to legalize weed. No Republicans voted for the bill in either chamber of the Virginia legislature.
Legalized sales of marijuana will not begin until 2024, Politico reports. The law permits adults over 21 to possess one ounce or less of marijuana and cultivate “up to four houseplants.” Weed stores will be allowed to operate under a 21% tax threshold.
Virginia decriminalized weed possession last year, with penalties reduced to a mere $25 fine.
The Virginia branch of the NAACP refused to back the new law, claiming the legislature’s bill would result in increased encounters with police for Black Virginians.
“The Virginia NAACP does not support so-called marijuana decriminalization that includes systemically racist probable cause provisions,” Virginia State Conference NAACP President Robert N. Barnett, Jr. said in a statement. “We will not stand by while Jim Crow’s sister Jane tries to creep her way into Virginia law.”
The ACLU of Virginia likewise refused to back the law, saying the bill fell short in advancing “the cause of equal justice or racial justice in Virginia.”
“It is the product of a closed-door legislative process that has prioritized the interests of recreational marijuana smokers over people and communities of color,” the group said in a release. “The bill is a failure and we urge lawmakers to vote against it.”
The ACLU joined the NAACP in denouncing “new pretexts like ‘transportation’ and offering or consuming marijuana in a public place” introduced by the law, both of which “will be enforced disproportionately against Black Virginians.”
The ACLU also claims the bill includes “a reenactment clause, requiring virtually every aspect of the bill to be voted on again in 2022. The vote this year doesn’t matter.”
On February 22, New Jersey’s legislature passed a broad legalization law after voters approved a pro-legalization referendum at the ballot box.
When Barack Obama was first elected US president, no state in the union had legalized marijuana for recreational use, though California had become the first state to approve medical marijuana in 1996. By 2012, Washington and Colorado became the first states to legalize weed for recreational use; the first legal recreational sale took place in Colorado on January 1, 2014.
Nearly 4 in 10 of all drug arrests in 2018 were for marijuana, and 92% of those were for mere possession rather than sale or growing, according to a Pew Research study.
In addition to the 16 states where marijuana is legal, 35 have some form of medical marijuana law on the books, though use, possession and sale remain illegal in federal law. A recent Gallup poll shows nearly 68% of the country supporting legalization.