By DENISE LAVOIE and SARAH RANKIN / Associated Press

Sen. Jeremy McPike, D-Prince William, left, Sen. Louise Lucas, D-Portsmouth, center and Sen. Adam Ebbin, D-Alexandria, right, confer on marijuana legislation before the floor session of the Virginia Senate, which is meeting inside the Science Museum of Virginia in Richmond, Va., Saturday, Feb. 27, 2021. (Bob Brown/Richmond Times-Dispatch via AP)

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Virginia lawmakers gave final approval Saturday to a bill that will legalize marijuana for adult recreational use, but not until 2024, when retail sales of the drug would also begin.

With a compromise bill clearing the House and Senate, Virginia becomes the first Southern state to vote to legalize marijuana, joining 15 other states and the District of Columbia. The legislation now goes to Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam, who supports legalization.

The bill was a top priority for Democrats, who framed legalization as a necessary step to end the disparate treatment of people of color under current marijuana laws. But talks between Democrats in the House and Senate grew tense in recent days, and a compromise version of the massive bill did not emerge publicly until late Saturday afternoon.

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