Virginia is for Lovers…Cannabis Lovers
Earlier this month members of the Virginia House of delegates and the Senate separately voted to approve a form of adult-use cannabis legalization in two separate bills.
Adults 21 and older can legally possess up to one ounce of marijuana as well as limited personal cultivation at home. In addition, this bill addresses the automatic expungement process of marijuana-related offenses, as well as dedicating a portion of revenue to pre-kindergarten programs for at-risk children and public health programs.
Encouragement for legalization is gaining momentum across the country but not all state legislatures are converting their legislation to support their backing. Virginia is making its own strides, in 2020 the state decriminalized possession of cannabis (up to an ounce) with a $25 civil penalty. And by February 5, 2021, Virginia House and Senate progressed further when they both passed bills approving adult use cannabis legalization in Virginia, on a crucial day when Virginia’s key crossover deadline, and bills must be transferred to the opposing chamber.
House Bill 2312 passed on a 55-42 vote by the House of Delegates, relaying it the Senate for further deliberation. Thereafter the Senate approved Senate Bill 1406 passed on a 23-15 vote, sending it to the House.
There are differences in the bills and these two versions will most likely come to a resolution when Lawmakers meet later in a conference committee. With the support of Virginia Governor Ralph Northam, who has gone on the record supporting legalizing adult-use cannabis, it is probable a legalization bill will pass through conference and be sent directly to the governor. With such approval Virginia would become the 16th state in the United States to legalize recreational marijuana, however, that would make it the 3rd state to do it exclusively through legislative process.
Recent polling data determined 68% of both Democrats and Republicans registered voters in Virginia, support legalizing cannabis for adults.
Key Rules and Penalties Found in Both Bills:
-Adults who are 21 or older can legally possess up to one ounce of cannabis or an equivalent amount of cannabis product.
-A household can cultivate up to two mature and two immature cannabis plants at their primary residence.
-Possessing more than an ounce of cannabis remains punishable by a civil fine up to $25.
-Possessing more than five pounds could result in up to 10 years in prison.
-Possession on school grounds could result in up to 6 months in jail.
-Bringing any cannabis into Virginia would be punishable by up to 1 year in jail.
Regulatory and Licensing Framework Found in Both Bills:
-A Cannabis Control Authority, governed by a five-member board of directors, will be created to regulate the adult-use cannabis market.
-Licensing priority will be given to social equity applicants.
-A Cannabis Business Equity and Diversity Support Team will be created.
-A Cannabis Public Health Advisory Council will be created to make public health recommendations.
-Requirements for seed-to-sale tracking, packaging, and labeling, including state-created risk information and warning labels, are included.
-A state tax of 21% would be levied at the point of sale. Localities could impose their own tax up to 3%.
-Portions of the tax revenue would be earmarked for pre-K education for at-risk children and substance abuse treatment and prevention, among other things.
Finally, each of the bills provide automatic expungement of misdemeanor marijuana–related offenses and allow for petitions for expungement of marijuana-related felonies depending on circumstances.
The House and Senate bills contrast in regard to the role and capacity of local government involvement. The Senate bill allows localities to prohibit cannabis stores by voter referenda.
January 1, 2024 would be the earliest date for beginning the retail sale of cannabis, according to both bills. You can be sure as Virginia approaches 2024, the regulation guidelines will become more rigid at both the state and local levels.