Virginia Common Meeting approves marijuana legalization

The simple possession of up to one ounce of marijuana by adults 21 and older will be legal in Virginia effective July 1, 2021.

On April 7, the Democratic-controlled Virginia General Assembly approved Governor Ralph Northam’s amendments to Virginia law to legalize adult marijuana. The House of Representatives voted 53-44-2 to adopt the governor’s recommendations, while the Senate vote was a tight call. The senators voted for the governor’s recommendations by 20 to 20 votes, with Lt. Governor Fairfax (D) cast the decisive vote in support. The legislation is now awaiting signature by Governor Northam for official approval.

HB2312 and SB1406 will legalize simple marijuana possession, create a regulatory system for retail sales with an emphasis on social equity licensing programs and access to capital, protect and educate Virginia youth, advocate prevention and public health in schools and communities and again invest communities hardest hit by marijuana laws.

The biggest changes Governor Northam made were to legalize simple adult possession of marijuana from July 1, 2021, and to allow the personal cultivation of up to four plants per household with effect from July 1, 2021. Originally from Law passed by the General Assembly had a start date of January 1, 2024, which coincides with retail sales.

Of particular concern to Republicans in both chambers were the governor’s recommendations for work. His amendments included the language used to empower the newly formed cannabis control agency to revoke a license if they disrupt the efforts of the union organization, fail to pay applicable wages, or classify more than 10 percent of the workforce as independent contractors. Since Virginia is a right to work, we await further debate on this point.

The final legislation does not provide a legal way to purchase adult marijuana from July 1, 2021, and does not accelerate the originally elapsed schedule to bring retail sales online. Additionally, the law specifically prohibits the use of marijuana in public places and provides for a $ 25 fine for such behavior.

The most important provisions of the legislation currently include:

  • Legalize simple adult possession of marijuana effective July 1, 2021;
  • Permission for the personal cultivation of up to four plants per household with effect from July 1, 2021;
  • Creation of an independent agency, the Cannabis Control Authority, to oversee both retail adult marijuana and Virginia’s pharmaceutical processing program, also known as medicinal cannabis;
  • Creation of a Cannabis Equity Reinvestment Fund;
  • Parameters for marijuana cultivation, manufacturing, wholesale and retail licenses and specific qualifications for equity licenses;
  • Established Virginia Cannabis Equity Business Loan Fund;
  • Establishing penalties related to adult use such as public ownership and consumption, illicit distribution, use in a motor vehicle, and transportation of marijuana across state lines;
  • Establish a tax structure (21 percent excise tax with a municipal allowance to add an additional 3 percent tax); and
  • Use of excise revenue for cannabis sales.

Many of the provisions of the legislation will have to be re-enacted during the 2022 General Assembly session. In other words, certain provisions of the bill need to be re-enacted. With the final vote by the General Assembly, Virginia will legalize simple ownership starting July 1, 2021, while adult retail marijuana sales will come on board January 1, 2024 until certain regulations come back into effect.