Where is Virginia on Weed?

by Anne G. Bibeau, Esq. and Jonathan Gallo, Esq.

As part of its surprising swing from the conservative Old Dominion to the most progressive state in the South, Virginia is hurtling towards marijuana legalization. In February 2021, the General Assembly passed two bills for legalization, HB 2312 and SB 1406. Those bills are before Governor Northam for approval, amendment, or veto. As Governor Northam supports the legalization, it appears likely that those bills, or something close to them, will soon become law, making Virginia the 16th state to legalize recreational marijuana.

The legislation grew from reports issued in November by the Virginia Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission (“JLARC”) study on marijuana legalization and the Governor’s Virginia Marijuana Legalization Work Group. Under the legislation’s current version, Virginia would legalize possession of one ounce or less for those aged 21 or older beginning on January 1, 2024. Retail sales would be permitted beginning that same day, under the regulatory authority and oversight of a new state agency, the Virginia Cannabis Control Authority (“VCCA”). The VCCA is required to develop and administer regulations for the cultivation, manufacture, testing, and retail sale of marijuana and marijuana products, as well as tax rates for marijuana sales.

The legislation would create a licensing structure for the cultivation of marijuana, the manufacture and testing of marijuana products, as well as wholesale and retail sales as well as caps on the number of each type of license. In addition, the legislation would permit home cultivation of up to four marijuana plants for personal use for those aged 21 years or older. At the same time, localities may opt, by public referendum, to prohibit retail marijuana sales, but not cultivation. The legislation would “grandfather” existing pharmaceutical processors under Virginia’s medical cannabis program for all license categories and allow industrial hemp processors to continue under the existing structure for industrial hemp.

The legislation includes certain “social equity” support and resources to communities that have been disproportionately affected by drug enforcement. Programs include a Cannabis Equity Reinvestment Board and Fund, a Cannabis Equity Business Loan Program/Fund, and a Cannabis Public Health Advisory Council. Certain marijuana-related offenses would be expunged, and the penalties for others would be modified. The legislation’s current version does not address the use of marijuana in the employment context.

All eyes are now on Governor Northam to see what he will do with the bills delivered by the General Assembly. Vandeventer Black LLP’s Hemp and Medical Cannabis attorneys are closely monitoring this legislation and are available to assist businesses looking to enter this new marketplace, and employers dealing with the ramifications in the workplace.