HB 2312 allows for possession of marijuana, emphasizes social equity


Virginia is set to become the 16th state to legalize marijuana after the state legislature narrowly passed a bill that permits adults ages 21 and over to possess up to one ounce of the substance. The law goes into effect on July 1.

 The bill also includes measures to repair some of the damage inflicted by the war on drugs, especially for those who have a marijuana-related criminal record. The law would impose “limits on dissemination of criminal history record information for certain marijuana offenses,” according to a summary of the bill posted on the Virginia state Legislature’s website.

 “The legalization of marijuana has been long overdue, and it’s empowering to see Virginia taking necessary strides toward progress,” said Alex Elliott, communications director for GMU Democrats.

 The vote came down to a 20-20 tie in the Virginia Senate, which was broken by Democratic Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax. No Republican senators voted in favor of the bill.

 Jackson Avery, chairman of Mason’s chapter of College Republicans, echoed opposition to the bill. 

“I think that the role of government is policing action of what we deem is good and what we deem is bad, and I think that we can have a discussion on marijuana, but it’s definitely not a good thing that we should actively promote it, i.e. legalization,” said Avery.

 The lengthy 300-page bill also lays out an extensive regulatory apparatus for the state’s prospective cannabis industry. 

“The bill creates the Virginia Cannabis Control Authority (the Authority), the Cannabis Oversight Commission, the Cannabis Public Health Advisory Council, the Cannabis Equity Reinvestment Board and Fund, and the Virginia Cannabis Equity Business Loan Program and Fund,” according to the bill’s summary.

 State-granted licenses for the distribution and sale of marijuana are not set to be issued until 2024 and the state will prioritize “social equity” applicants, which will include those charged with marijuana-related offenses as well as graduates of historically black colleges.

 According to NPR, the state plans to allocate 30 percent of tax revenue from marijuana sales to programs that help communities impacted by the war on drugs and another 40 percent toward early childhood education, with the remainder going toward public health programs and substance abuse treatment.

The bill also contains protections for cannabis industry workers who seek to unionize. According to VPM, “Gov. Ralph Northam has restored language that would strip businesses of their marijuana-related licenses if they fail to remain neutral in a unionization drive. It would also require those businesses [to] pay employees a prevailing wage, as determined by the U.S. Department of Labor, and bar them from classifying more than 10% of their workforce as contractors.”

Marcel Gautreau, vice president of Mason’s Young Americans for Liberty chapter, expressed support for marijuana legalization but has concerns about the additional content of the bill. 

“What should be a simple change to the criminal code is packed to the gills with various corporate subsidies, onerous licensing requirements, so-called equity programs, and amendments to Virginia’s labor laws to punish marijuana firms that meaningfully resist the unionization of their employees,” said Gautreau. 

A significant portion of the bill’s regulatory framework must be approved again by lawmakers in a general session next year, according to NPR.