It is no news that adult-use cannabis legalization has been gaining traction of support across the country and many state legislatures have been slow to translate that support into action. However, 2020 has shown an even more tremendous support as more states are legalizing adult-use recreation and medical. Early in 2020, Virginia decriminalized the possession of up to an ounce with a fine of $25. Then most recently as of February 5, 2021, the Virginia House and Sente took it another step further by passing a bill that would approve adult-use cannabis legalization in Virginia. To be exact, Senate Buk 1406 passed on a 23-15 vote and House Bill 2312 passed on a 55-42 vote. With this passage, Virginia is the 16th state to legalize recreational cannabis but is only the 3rd state to do so solely through the legislative process.

Prior to the vote, Virginia polls showed that 70% of VA state voters were in favor of legalizing adult-use cannabis.

Key Rules and Penalties in Both Bills

  • Adults who are 21+ can possess up to one ounce of cannabis or an equivalent amount of cannabis product.
  • A single household can cultivate up to two mature and two immature plants at their primary residence.
  • Possessing more than an ounce of cannabis remains punishable by a civil fine up to $25
  • Possessing more than 5lbs could result in up to 10 years in prison
  • Possession on school grounds could result up to 6 months in jail.
  • Bringing cannabis into Virginia would be punishable by up to 1 year in jail.

Licensing and Regulatory Framework 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.

Both bills also provide automatic expungement of misdemeanor marijuana–related offenses and allow for petitions for expungement of marijuana-related felonies under certain circumstances.

The House and Senate bills differ in the role and scope of local government involvement.  The Senate bill allows localities to ban cannabis stores by voter referenda.

Both bills set January 1, 2024 as the earliest date for beginning the retail sale of cannabis.  As Virginia moves forward toward 2024, the regulatory framework will continue to grow in size and complexity at both the state and local levels.

Sales of adult-use recreational marijuana is expected to start in 2024 and is expected to generate tax revenues for the state. ABC 13 News noted that a tax of 21% would be imposed on the retail of cannabis, cannabis products, paraphernalia, and other products.

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