Can Virginia Localities Still “Just Say No”? Regulations Permitted After Marijuana’s Legalization

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Starting July 1, 2021, small quantities of marijuana may be legally grown and consumed in Virginia. For those who are 21 years old or older, this includes the ability to consume marijuana upon private property, grow up to four plants and possess an ounce or less of marijuana for personal consumption. While this bill legalizes home use across the Commonwealth, it does not necessarily roll out a red carpet for all business ventures involving cannabis or license cannabis use or possession in every setting. “Baked” into this new legislation are measures which localities can use to “just say no” to the emerging cannabis industry.

Under the new law, localities have the power to:

  1. Pass a resolution to petition the circuit court for the locality to issue a referendum on whether to allow retail marijuana in their communities, (but importantly this referendum needs to happen by December 31, 2022),
  2. Adopt ordinances which prohibit consuming cannabis in public places or on or near the grounds of a school (See Va. Code § 4.1-1108, §4.1-1109),
  3. Adopt ordinances to regulate or to prohibit “the possession of opened marijuana or retail marijuana products containers in public, or within playgrounds, public streets, and any sidewalk adjoining any public street” (Va. Code § 4.1-630),
  4. Use local zoning and land use ordinances to regulate businesses licensed to sell cannabis products (Va. Code § 4.1-630(C)), and
  5. Regulate by ordinance the business hours of marijuana retail establishments and enforce these regulations with fines (Va. Code § 4.1-631).

On the other hand, if localities say yes to cannabis businesses, the new law provides that localities may see more than one type of “green stuff.” For example, localities who decide to permit the weedy business have the power to impose an additional 3% tax on cannabis related sales.

In any case, change is coming to Virginia communities in the Summer of 2021. Whether your locality opens its doors to the cannabis industry or decides to “just say no,” now is the time to start planning what part your locality will play.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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