Southwest Virginia residents react to state’s marijuana legalization

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(WJHL) — Virginia has become the first Southern state to legalize recreational marijuana.

Virginia is now the 16th state, along with the District of Columbia, to legalize it.

Come July 1, it will be legal for adults to possess and grow small quantities in the commonwealth.

Residents in southwest Virginia shared their thoughts about marijuana being legalized in their state Thursday.

Former coal miner and Bristol, Virginia resident Larry Hillman, said he is against the use of marijuana across the board.

“It has the tendency to lead people to do harder drugs, and we can live without any kind of drugs like that,” Hillman said.

John Griffith said he thinks it took Virginia legislators took way too long to legalize the drug.

“I don’t use it myself, but I feel like when you’re an adult, you make decisions for yourself,” Griffith said. “They want to talk about gateway drugs and things. Especially, the medical marijuana part, anybody that’s sick should be able to do whatever they need to do to make themselves feel better. It’s silly that people go to jail that is in pain.”

Many believe marijuana legalization will help reduce jail overcrowding, but Bristol, Virginia City Manager Randall Eads doesn’t believe that will be the case.

“The majority of people in jail are usually in there for reasons other than for marijuana,” Eads said. “It’s usually some sort of harder drug or some sort of violent offense.”

Eads said it is imperative for legislators to focus on mental health, which he says is connected to many drug addictions.

“It’s the opioids and meth. Until we can come up with a solution and deal with the drug addiction and mental health issues, we’re always going to have these other problems,” Eads said.

Jack Page is the owner and CEO of Dharma Pharmaceuticals, which is relocating to Abingdon. He said he is thrilled with the legislation’s decision, on Wednesday.

“The General Assembly took action to remove the stigma around cannabis use in Virginia,” Page said. “We see every day how the medicine benefits our patients. We’re excited that more Virginians will have that opportunity.”

As of right now, the only people that can access the dispensary will still be registered patients with a certification from a practitioner.

Legal marijuana sales for recreational use is not expected until 2024 in Virginia, pending approval in next year’s legislative session.

Lawmakers need to vote again on the regulatory framework before awarding business licenses.

“We’ll definitely participate in both markets but being in the adult-use market will help us develop products for the medical side and will also help reduce costs for the medicine,” Page said.

While the sale of marijuana remains illegal right now in Virginia, the legislation, which goes into effect July 1, provides for the growth of up to four pot plants per household, with guidelines.

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