Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam signed legislation into law Wednesday permitting adults 21 years old and up to legally possess and grow small amounts of marijuana for personal use starting July 1, 2021.
Once the law takes effect, Virginia is slated to become the first southern U.S. state to allow the recreational use of marijuana, or cannabis, joining more than a dozen others across the country.
Mr. Northam said during a signing ceremony in Richmond that putting the legislation into law marked a “milestone” for Virginia made possible by fellow Democrats controlling the state General Assembly.
“This is yet another example of Democrats — yes, Democrats — listening to Virginians and taking action on the will of the people,” Mr. Northam said.
Marijuana is prohibited under longstanding federal law, the U.S. Controlled Substances Act, which categorizes the plant alongside heroin as a Schedule 1 narcotic with no known medical benefits.
A majority of the states have legalized the medicinal use of marijuana, however, including a growing number that has gone further by permitting adults to use the plant for recreational purposes.
The new recreational law in Virginia, which legalized the medicinal use of marijuana last year, will allow for adults to possess up to an ounce of the plant and grow up to four per household.
“What this really means is that people will no longer be arrested or face penalties for simple possession that follow them and affect their lives,” Mr. Northam said during the signing ceremony. “This is the latest step we are taking toward building a more equitable and just Virginia and reforming our criminal justice system to make it more fair.”
Mr. Northam noted that marijuana laws in Virginia and throughout the U.S have been disproportionately enforced against communities of color with potentially devastating, long-term consequences.
“An arrest for simple possession can literally follow a person for a very long time,” he said. “It can impact their ability to get jobs or get into school. And, unfortunately, arrest can sometimes escalate into something much more dangerous, as we are all aware of lately.
“This is the latest step we are taking to building a more equitable and just Virginia,” Mr. Northam added.
Members of the Virginia legislature originally voted in January to legalize marijuana beginning in 2024. Mr. Northam subsequently asked for the earlier start date included in the version he signed.
While the legislation will allow Virginians to use and grow marijuana for personal use, it will not immediately legalize buying or selling the plant. Commercial sales are expected to start in 2024.