State lawmakers are angling to pass legislation before the session ends Feb. 11.
By MONA ZHANG – 02/02/2021 – Updated:
The growing movement to legalize marijuana is eyeing its first real foothold in the Old South.
Once a deeply conservative state where Republicans dominated elected office just a decade ago, Virginia has seen a more liberal crop of politicians come to power, with Democrats now holding every statewide office and controlling both chambers of the Legislature.
In the past year, the state has ended criminal penalties for minor marijuana offenses and established a medical marijuana program. Now, Virginia lawmakers are scrambling to pass full legalization before their 30-day legislative session wraps up in less than two weeks.
If signed into law, the move would represent weed’s deepest incursion into the southeast, where only a handful of states have even embraced medical marijuana and still have some of the nation’s harshest punishments over the drug.
Legalization still faces pushback from many Republicans, cops and substance abuse treatment professionals, who argue the state is moving way too fast on an issue with huge public health ramifications.
“We should wait on legalization to see how decriminalization will pan out in Virginia,” said Mary Crozier, a member of the Community Coalitions of Virginia who opposes the legislative push.
Virginia is among several states — including New Mexico, New York, Connecticut and Maryland — that are considering adult-use legalization this year. Only two out of 15 states that have legalized adult-use marijuana in some form have done so through their legislature, while others passed initiatives at the ballot box. With voters in conservative states such as Montana and South Dakota passing adult-use in November, Democratic-controlled states are increasingly feeling pressure to act.
The embrace is two-fold: Racial justice protests last year highlighted longstanding arguments about the disproportionate enforcement of marijuana laws on Black and brown communities, and coronavirus-smacked budgets have pushed lawmakers to find cash…