Legalizing simple possession this summer was first proposed by Sen. Jennifer McClellan, D-Richmond, and successfully advanced through the Senate. (McClellan is seeking the Democratic nomination for governor.)
Negotiations between the House and Senate ultimately yielded a bill that would legalize simple possession in 2024 along with the creation of a regulated market.
The provision delaying legalization for three years led several Democrats in the House to oppose the bill. Some argued that the delay to legalize simple possession until there is a legal market in 2024 unjustly continues the disparate criminalization of Virginians of color.
“Business before justice is hard to stomach,” said Del. Cia Price, D-Newport News, one of seven Democrats who withheld votes on the bill. The bill cleared the House 48-43, with all Republicans opposing, except for two who abstained.
Civil rights groups — including the ACLU of Virginia and Marijuana Justice — have argued for weeks that even with the decriminalization of marijuana enacted this year — in which people can get $25 fines for simple possession — people of color are still more likely to interact with the criminal justice system.
They cited state data showing that, of the 4,505 people cited for simple possession since the General Assembly decriminalized marijuana last summer, 52% were Black and 45% were white, while Black people make up 20% of the state’s population and white people 70%.