Since the start of 2021 Virginia Governor Ralph Northam (D) has made it clear that he plans to see cannabis legalized for adult use before the year is over. This is following decriminalization in July, 2020. The budget proposal introduced early in January included groundwork like millions in funding to support efforts to expunge prior cannabis convictions and create a process for commercial sales of the plant. Before the end of January, a legalization bill has made its first hurdles being drafted in the Senate.
Virginia Senate Committee Approves Legalization Bill
The Senate Rehabilitation and Social Services Committee approved a bill to legalize marijuana with a narrow vote of 8-7. From here, the bill will go to another panel and will likely still see changes before it reaches a Senate floor vote. The recent vote also accepted a series of amendments that were proposed by a newly formed marijuana subcommittee that held additional hearings earlier in the week.
One of the approved amendments included establishing an independent agency to regulate the marijuana market. Originally, the bill planned to expand the state’s existing alcohol division to also include marijuana. However, the inclusion of a unique overseeing regulatory body has pushed back the expected timeline of implementation by at least a year.
The other amendment that the Senate committee agreed to keep was allowing adults 21 and older to grow plants at home for personal use. The bill would allow individuals to cultivate up to four plants, but only two could be mature at the same time.
What Will Cannabis Legalization Look Like in Virginia?
While the bill is being debated in the Senate and still awaits review in the General Assembly, everything is subject to change. However, Virginia has the advantage of having 11 other states to pull inspiration from in the writing of their marijuana laws.
So far, here’s what legalization will look like in Virginia:
- 21 percent tax on cannabis sales in addition to the normal sales tax, for a total around 30 percent. Local jurisdictions would also be allowed to impose an additional 3 percent tax if they wish.
- Revenue from these new state taxes would go to funding pre-K education (40 percent), a Cannabis Equity Reinvestment Fund (30 percent), substance misuse and treatment programs (25 percent) and public health initiatives (5 percent).
- Possession of up to one ounce would be legal for adults 21 and older. Possession of more than one ounce but up to five pounds would be a civil penalty punishable by a $25 fine.
- Local municipalities would need to opt-in to allow cannabis businesses to operate in their area (through either city council or voter ballot measure).
- Five categories of licensing: cultivation, manufacturing, testing, wholesaler, and retailer. Some licenses could be held at the same time, while others cannot.
- Automatic expungement of prior cannabis convictions and the ability for those currently serving a sentence to be re-sentenced.
Of course, this is not a full list of everything that is included in the draft bill, but it is all the major points that are important to be aware of until things are finalized. Chances are, much of what is there will still be there when the bill finally makes it to the governor’s desk for signature.
When Can Virginians Expect to See Legalization Become Law?
Governor Northam has been pushing for marijuana legalization in Virginia for a while now. In 2020, the General Assembly took the first step forward to decriminalize cannabis, but it’s clear that doesn’t really solve the issue at hand.
“Reforming our marijuana laws is one way to ensure that Virginia is a more just state that works better for everyone. It also will eventually bring in tax revenue that can be used to further make sure we are providing equitable access to opportunity,” Northam said.
It’s been a clear goal of the Governor’s since taking office and it seems like 2021 is the year that some sort of marijuana reform legislation will be put on the books in Virginia. However, just because the law is likely to get passed, you can’t expect major changes over night. In fact, the original goal was for the commercial industry to be operating by 2023, but changes to the bill this early on see that happening more likely in 2024.
As things continue to develop in the Virginia legislature, Leafwell will continue to keep you informed on all bills that are introduced with the goal of shaping the state’s inevitable legal cannabis industry. In the meantime, you can legally consume MMJ in Virginia with a medical cannabis card from Leafwell.