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Sweet Virginia Is the First Southern State to Legalize Marijuana

Lawmakers approve a bill that will allow adults to possess and cultivate small amounts of weed starting in July.

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Yesterday, Virginia lawmakers approved a bill introduced by Governor Ralph Northam that allows adults 21 and up to legally possess up to one ounce (28.3 grams) of cannabis starting July 1. It also would allow the home cultivation of up to four plants per household. But you can't consume marijuana in public. 

“This is not going to generate some ganjafest at Jiffy Lube pavilion out in the parking lot, because that is smoking in public. Just like you can’t drink in public, you can’t smoke in public under this,” Democratic Sen. Scott Surovell said.

It was a close vote. Lt. Gov and Democrat Justin Fairfax broke a 20-20 vote tie in Virginia's Senate to pass the bill. No Republicans supported the measure.

Retail on hold

But don't hold your breath for retail sales in the state to become available any time soon. The bill lays out a complicated process for forming a new state agency to oversee the cannabis marketplace, with sales beginning on Jan. 1, 2024.

Originally, some lawmakers in the Virginia Senate tried to legalize simple possession beginning in July, but House Democrats said that legalization without a legal market for marijuana could promote the growth of the black market. 

Jenn Michelle Pedini, executive director of Virginia NORML, called the vote to legalize in VA "an incredible victory" but added, "in the interest of public and consumer safety, Virginians 21 and older should be able to purchase retail cannabis products at the already operational dispensaries in 2021, not in 2024."