Virginia governor signs bill legalizing marijuana possession starting July 1

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FILE – This Monday, March 15, 2021, file photo shows Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam at the Governor’s Mansion in Richmond, Va. Northam is set to sign historic legislation abolishing the death penalty in Virginia. Northam scheduled a tour Wednesday, March 24, 2021, of the death chamber at the Greensville Correction Center, then planned to sign the landmark legislation. (AP Photo/Steve Helber, File)

(Reuters) — Virginia Governor Ralph Northam signed a bill that legalizes the simple possession of marijuana, making the state the first in the U.S. south to allow the drug’s recreational use, the governor said.

In a bid to tackle racial disparities in the prosecution of marijuana-related crimes, the state accelerated to July 1 its timetable to pass the legislation, rather than waiting until 2024.

“Seventy-one days from now, Virginia will no longer police adults possessing small amounts of marijuana,” Northam said at Wednesday’s ceremonial signing of the bill.

Northam cited a report by the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission that showed Black residents were more than three times as likely to be arrested for possessing small amounts of the drug.

“We are moving forward in a way that promotes equity, provides a clean slate to those with prior convictions, and reinvests in the communities harmed by over-criminalization,” he said on Twitter.

The legislation, signed a day after the informal April 20 pot holiday, also known as 4/20, allows anyone aged 21 or more to possess up to one ounce of marijuana.

People in the state can cultivate up to four cannabis plants per home for personal use.

NORML, a pro-marijuana group, celebrated the decision as an “extraordinary victory for cannabis justice” in the state.

The timeline for the state to adopt provisions licensing commercial cannabis production and sales is July 1, 2024.

On Monday, the U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation that lets banks provide services to cannabis companies in states where it is legal, a step towards levelling what analysts call a barrier to the development of a national industry.

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