Things move quickly in the cannabis industry, especially in Virginia apparently. In February, the Virginia General Assembly passed legislation legalizing marijuana for adult use. As we wrote about here, the legalization date was set for January 1, 2024. Governor Ralph Northam (D), however, quickly proposed amendments to fast-track possession and allow limited home grow beginning this summer on July 1, 2021. On April 7, the Democratic-controlled Legislature passed the fast-track legislation, known as Senate Bill 1406, and Governor Northam signed it two weeks later. Virginia is now the 16th State to legalize marijuana and the most recent state to emphasize social equity.
Some of the highlights of the bill are:
- Adults ages 21 and older can possess up to an ounce of marijuana effective July 1, 2021.
- Possession of more than an ounce but less than a pound will result in a $25 fine.
- Possession of more than a pound can be charged with a felony punishable between 1 and 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000.
- Home cultivation of up to four plants is permitted beginning on July 1, 2021, provided they are not visible from the public eye and precautions are taken to prevent unauthorized access by minors.
- Past misdemeanor marijuana convictions are automatically sealed and expunged.
- According to the Governor’s office press release, Northam “will continue to work hand in hand with legislators to make Virginia’s criminal justice system more equitable, including through efforts to resentence individuals previously convicted for marijuana offenses.”
- Funding is provided for (1) a public health and safety campaign educating about the risks of marijuana and (2) training for law enforcement officers to recognize and prevent impaired driving.
- Stronger protections are put in place for industry employees.
- An independent agency, the Virginia Cannabis Control Authority, is created to issue regulations that will govern the new adult use market.
- Virginia will accept cannabis license applications starting on July 1, 2023 until January 1, 2024, giving preference to qualified social equity applicants. A “social equity” applicant is an entity with at least 66% ownership by a person or persons who have been charged with marijuana-related offenses or who graduated from historically black colleges and universities located in Virginia.
- Consumption in public, while driving, and possession on school grounds still remain illegal under the bill.
There are still some obvious unanswered questions that will need to be fleshed out in coming months. While possession will be legal in July, it is unclear if Virginia residents will have any local outlets to purchase cannabis for adult use as the law does not explicitly allow existing medical dispensaries to sell to adults. There is also no legal method to purchase seeds for home cultivation and there is some question as to how the four plant limit is squared with the one ounce possession limit. Automatic expungements are dependent on updating computer systems and it’s unclear on the timeline when the initiative will begin.
Despite those unanswered questions, Virginia is moving forward rapidly to make things right. We applaud those efforts. Be sure to follow our blog if you are interested in seeking licenses in Virginia and to stay up to date on this and all other developments concerning the cannabis industry.