Virginia Poised for Final Vote on Marijuana Legalization

Cozen O'Connor
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Cozen O'Connor

As marijuana legalization continues to sweep through the nation, Virginia is poised to become the first southern state to legalize adult use of marijuana.

On March 31, Governor Ralph Northam (D) announced a series of amendments to Virginia’s legislation to legalize adult-use marijuana, most notably including the legalization of adult possession of up to one ounce of cannabis beginning July 1, 2021. On Wednesday, April 7 the Virginia General Assembly will take the final votes on this year’s efforts to legalize marijuana.

The process of legalizing marijuana by a statewide ballot referendum is not available in Virginia thus advocates have waited for the political stars to align. After the conclusion of several studies in 2020 to determine potential paths forward on equitable legalization, Governor Northam announced his support for legalizing adult-use marijuana in Virginia in November of 2020.

Governor Northam worked with House Majority Leader Charniele Herring (D), long-time legalization advocate Senator Adam Ebbin (D), and Virginia Senate Pro Tempore Senator L. Louise Lucas (D) to introduce legislation (HB2312 and SB1406) to legalize simple possession of marijuana, expunge records of past marijuana-related convictions, 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.

Following the regular legislative session that concluded on March 1, Governor Northam had approximately 30 days to propose amendments, sign, or veto the legislation. The legislation has gone through many iterations during the legislative process with roughly five amendments coming from the governor to be considered at veto session on April 7.

Key provisions of the legislation currently include:

  • Legalization of simple possession of adult-use marijuana effective July 1, 2021 (pending approval of the governor’s amendment);
  • 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;
  • Personal cultivation of up to four plants per household effective July 1, 2021 (pending approval of the governor’s amendment);
  • 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.

Governor Northam included in his amendments 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.

Even with passage in 2021, many of the key provisions listed 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. If the governor’s amendments are accepted, Virginia would 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 the necessary 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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