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Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam speaking in Alexandria on March 30. Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam wants to legalize possession and growth of small amounts of recreational marijuana starting this July, according to changes he proposed Wednesday to legislation passed in February.

Why it matters: That proposed deadline is roughly three years earlier than what's been suggested in the state's legislature — which, if passed, would make Virginia the 16th state in the U.S. and first southern state to legalize the drug.

What they're saying: “Our Commonwealth is committed to legalizing marijuana in an equitable way,” Northam said on Wednesday. “Virginia will become the 15th state to legalize marijuana — and these changes will ensure we do it with a focus on public safety, public health, and social justice."

  • "I am grateful to the advocates and legislators for their dedicated work on this important issue, and I look forward to this legislation passing next month.”

Of note: New York became the 15th state to legalize marijuana on Wednesday.

The big picture: Northam's office said that a report commissioned by the state found that Black people in Virginia were disproportionately policed and convicted for marijuana use, which is the driver behind the amendment to speed up legalization.

Go deeper

N.Y. lawmakers pass bill to legalize adult use of marijuana

Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios

New York state lawmakers on Tuesday passed a bill to legalize recreational marijuana for people 21 and older.

Why it matters: The bill would expunge records for thousands of people who have past marijuana-related convictions. Black and brown people represented 94% of marijuana arrests in New York City in 2020.

New York legalizes recreational marijuana

Photo: Seth Wenig-Pool/Getty Images)

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Wednesday signed a bill to legalize recreational marijuana for all adults over the age of 21.

Why it matters: New York is the 15th state to legalize recreational marijuana and is expected to quickly become one of the largest markets for legal cannabis in the country.

4 mins ago - World

Two years of COVID-19

Expand chart
Data: Our World in Data; Chart: Axios Visuals

Two years ago Wednesday, the first case of a mysterious new respiratory disease was discovered in Wuhan, China. Now, the Omicron variant has deepened concerns about just how much longer the coronavirus pandemic will last.

The big picture: More than 5 million people have died since that first case. Most people on earth have lived through some form of lockdown. 54% of the global population has had at least one vaccination, though the shots have been distributed unevenly.