The state’s legislature passed the bills on Friday, making it the first Southern state to make a change in both areas of law. The bills have now been sent to Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam, who has vowed to authorize them.
“It is historic, it is transformational,” House Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn (D-Fairfax) said, per The Washington Post. “Virginia is changing, and some of these historic pieces of legislation—it’s what the public wants.”
The plans to legalize weed say that retail sales will begin in the state in 2024. Two Republicans also joined all the House Democrats to approve the bill to end capital punishment. This was a significant moment, particularly because Democrats have gained control of both the House and Senate following this past election, which includes more women and minorities in the legislature as well. Democrats have since been able to push through measures on gun control, voting access, gender rights, and criminal justice.
Regarding marijuana legalization, both the House and Senate imagine creating a state agency that oversees the industry and retail licenses. According to a state study, marijuana would generate around $300 million a year in tax revenue.
For the death penalty, some Republicans said they would join Democrats if they were certain that offenders who had life sentences had no chance of getting paroled. The House’s iteration of the bill encompasses such language, but Republicans pointed to some violent inmates who have been granted early release.
Virginia administered the first execution in the U.S. in 1608 and has conducted more executions than any other state, with 1,389 offenders put to death. More recently, the use of capital punishment has decreased, with only two prisoners on death row in the state.