RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Virginia lawmakers were expected to vote Saturday on a bill that will legalize marijuana for adult recreational use in 2024, but negotiations were running down to the wire.
The bill is a top priority for Democrats, who framed legalization as a necessary step to end the disparate treatment of people of color under current marijuana laws.
Talks between Democrats in the House and Senate have been tense in recent days as the two chambers tried to work out significant differences between their versions of the legislation.
Sen. Joe Morrissey, (D-Richmond), said Saturday that a compromise has been agreed to in principle by both chambers. Under the agreement, possession of up to an ounce of marijuana will become legal in 2024, at the same time retail sales would begin and regulations would go into effect to control the marijuana marketplace in Virginia.
Also included in the deal is something the Senate insisted on: a reenactment clause that will allow the General Assembly to vote again next year on the regulatory framework, Morrissey said. He said the Senate gave up its quest to get a statewide voter referendum on the ballot, a move that House members opposed.
Del. Lamont Babgy, (D-Henrico), chairman of the Black Legislative Caucus and a member of the conference committee handling negotiations, said he is optimistic that both chambers will approve the bill Saturday.
Opponents of the bill have said they are concerned that legalization could result in an increase in drug-impaired driving crashes and the use of marijuana among youth.
If signed into law, Virginia would become the first Southern state and the 16th state in the nation to legalize small amounts of marijuana.
Lawmakers have been planning to finish most of the work for the year on Saturday, but technically adjourn on Monday for procedural reasons.