Virginia General Assembly Approves Legalization of Marijuana

Cozen O'Connor

Cozen O'Connor

Simple possession of marijuana, up to one ounce, by adults 21 and older, will now be legal in Virginia beginning July 1, 2021.

On April 7, the Democratic controlled Virginia General Assembly approved Governor Ralph Northam’s amendments to Virginia’s legislation to legalize adult-use marijuana. The House of Delegates voted 53-44-2 to accept the governor’s recommendations while the vote in the Senate was a close call. Senators voted 20-20 to approve the governor’s recommendations with Lt. Governor Fairfax (D) casting the tiebreaking vote to support. The legislation now awaits the signature of Governor Northam for official enactment.

HB2312 and SB1406 will legalize simple possession of marijuana, create a regulatory scheme for retail sales with an emphasis on social equity license programs and access to capital, protect and educate Virginia’s youth, champion prevention and public health efforts in schools and communities, and reinvest in communities most negatively impacted by marijuana laws.

The biggest changes made by Governor Northam were to legalize simple possession of adult-use marijuana beginning July 1, 2021 and to allow for personal cultivation of up to four plants per household effective July 1, 2021. The bill originally passed by the General Assembly had a start date for January 1, 2024 to coincide with retail sales.

Of particular note to Republicans in both chambers were the governor’s recommendations regarding labor. Included in his amendments was language to authorize the newly formed Cannabis Control Authority to revoke a license if they interfere with union organizing efforts, fail to pay prevailing wage, or classify more than 10 percent of employees as independent contractors. As Virginia is a right-to-work state, we expect to see continued debate on this point moving forward.

The final legislation does not provide for a legal way to purchase adult-use marijuana beginning July 1, 2021 and does not speed up the originally passed timeline to bring retail sales online. Additionally, the law expressly prohibits consumption of marijuana in public places and establishes a $25 fine for such conduct.

Key provisions of the legislation currently include:

  • Legalization of simple possession of adult-use marijuana effective July 1, 2021;
  • Allowance of personal cultivation of up to four plants per household effective July 1, 2021;
  • Creation of an independent agency, the Cannabis Control Authority, to oversee both retail adult-use marijuana and Virginia’s pharmaceutical processor program aka medical cannabis;
  • Creation of a Cannabis Equity Reinvestment Fund;
  • Parameters for marijuana cultivation, manufacturing, wholesaling, and retail licenses and specific equity license qualifications;
  • Establishment of the Virginia Cannabis Equity Business Loan Fund;
  • Establishment of penalties associated with adult-use such as public possession and consumption, illegal distribution, consumption in a motor vehicle, and transporting marijuana across state lines;
  • Establishment of a taxing structure (21 percent excise tax with an allowance for localities to add an additional 3 percent tax); and
  • Dedication of excise tax revenues on cannabis sales.

Many of the provisions in the legislation will require re-enactment during the 2022 General Assembly Session, in other words, certain provisions of the bill must be passed again. With the General Assembly’s final vote, Virginia is set to legalize simple possession starting July 1, 2021, while retail sales of adult-use marijuana would come on board on January 1, 2024, pending re-enactment of certain provisions.

DISCLAIMER: Cannabis is still classified as a Schedule I controlled substance by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency, and as such it remains a federal crime to grow, sell, and/or use cannabis. Any content contained herein is not intended to provide legal advice to assist with violation of any state or federal law.


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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