RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Advocates and lawmakers joined Governor Ralph Northam today to witness Virginia become the first state in the south to green-light recreational cannabis and to become the 16th state overall, including D.C.

Northam signed legislation at the Patrick Henry Building in Richmond, legalizing simple possession of marijuana and limited home growth starting July 1, 2021, three years sooner than first outlined. People 21-years-old and up will be able to process up to an ounce of marijuana and grow up to four plants in private, with guidelines.

“What this really means is people will no longer be arrested or face penalties for simple possession,” the governor said.

Northam cited a study that found Black people are more than three times more likely to be arrested for simple possession. He said this arrest can follow them for the rest of their lives, impacting their ability to get jobs or applying for schools.

The lawmakers stated the new law will create a more equitable justice system and society.

“The prohibition of cannabis has been long, unequally enforced, and used to over police our brown and black communities,” said Speaker of the House Eileen Filler-Corn.

“This bill is about restorative justice and helping economically distressed localities in all parts of the commonwealth,” said House Majority leader Charniele Herring.

Lawmakers originally agreed to legalize the simple possession of marijuana for adults 21 and older starting in 2024, and that’s still when recreational sales are expected to start in Virginia.

“This has been a long time coming but we’re finally getting there,” Senator Louise Lucas said.

Virginians still can’t smoke in public, in a car, or distribute pot.

There are also penalties for using marijuana under 21 and having it on school property. “We have to protect public safety,” Herring said.

She said the process to expunge past misdemeanor marijuana convictions will be speeding up. It’s not clear, however, exactly when we will see those convictions erased from criminal records.

She said the cases will work their way through individual court systems and the Virginia State Police database.

“The work is starting,” she said.