Bill introduced to legalize marijuana in Virginia

FILE - In this April 12, 2018 file photo, nugs of marijuana await packaging at the Hollingsworth Cannabis Company near Shelton, Wash. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)

RICHMOND, Va. (WSET) -- Virginia lawmakers are back at the capital for the 2019 legislative session that kicks off Wednesday.

Gov. Ralph Northam will issue his State of the Commonwealth at 7 p.m. in Richmond after the General Assembly convenes at noon.

This year’s session is scheduled to last 45 days and end on Feb. 23.

Much of the focus will be on state tax policy and whether to expand gambling in Virginia.

A Democrat delegate, representing Norfolk and Portsmouth, has already introduced a bill that would legalize marijuana in Virginia.

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Delegate Steve Heretick has been an advocate for marijuana reform since 2016 when he was first elected, according to WVEC.

House Bill 2371 would legalize marijuana for purchase and consumption by adults 21 years of age for medical or recreational purposes.

"The time has come for adults to have the freedom to decide for themselves whether or not to consume marijuana in the privacy of their homes," said Delegate Heretick in a video.

His bill would also allow for the cultivation, manufacturing, and distribution of marijuana throughout the state for those older than 21 and allow the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services to issue licenses for cultivation and retail distribution of marijuana.

It would also provide for limited home cultivation and personal use.

Sen. Adam Ebbin has submitted a bill to decriminalize simple marijuana possession — defined as 1/2 ounce or less — and provide a maximum civil penalty of $50 for a first violation in Virginia.

The current law carries a jail sentence of up to 30 days and a maximum $500 fine for a first offense.

In Virginia, five companies are expected to open the state’s first medical cannabis dispensaries in 2019.

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