Decriminalization law expanded during special session
Last update: November 12, 2020
During a special session, both chambers of the Virginia General Assembly approved modest cannabis reform bills that build on the decriminalization bill the legislature enacted earlier this year.
Gov. Northam signed one of the bills — SB 5013 — into law. This legislation gives people issued a summons for cannabis possession the option of prepaying the civil penalty instead of having to go to court.
Separately, SB 5029 — which prevents law enforcement from using the odor of cannabis as a pretext for searching and seizing property — will become law after the House and Senate agree to Gov. Northam’s amendment to the bill, which changed a part of the bill that is unrelated to cannabis. The new law will go into effect on March 1, 2021.
Decriminalization law officially goes into effect!
In May 2020, Gov. Ralph Northam signed SB 2/ HB 972 into law, which decriminalizes up to one ounce of marijuana. In doing so, Virginia became the 27th state to decriminalize simple marijuana possession The new law went into effect on July 1, 2020.
Under the new law, possession of one ounce or less of marijuana is a civil penalty punishable by up to a $25 fine. It also creates a workgroup to study legalization and produce findings by November 30. You can read a full summary of the bill here.
This reform is long overdue. Previously, marijuana possession was a criminal offense punishable by up to 30 days in jail and/or up to a $500 fine. Polling has shown that 83 percent of Virginians support replacing criminal convictions for marijuana possession with a fine, and 61 percent support ending prohibition all together.
While decriminalization will save many Virginians from arrest and incarceration, broader reform — legalizing and regulating cannabis for adults — is needed to further reduce cannabis-related arrests, remove cannabis as a justification for police interactions, and displace the illicit market by providing adults safe, regulated access to cannabis.
Virginia becomes 34th state to enact a comprehensive medical marijuana law
Since enacting a 2017 law that permitted patients suffering from intractable epilepsy to use some types of cannabis oil with a doctor’s certification, lawmakers have continually improved Virginia's medical cannabis program.
The latest improvements went into effect on July 1, 2020, making Virginia the 34th state with an effective medical cannabis program. Patients are now formally protected from arrest and prosecution for possessing their medicine — they no longer merely have an affirmative defense. Additionally, Virginia patients with any condition are now able to receive recommendations to use and purchase cannabis preparations with no more than 10 milligrams of THC per dose. Flower is not allowed.
You can check out our full summary of the law here.
Registration applications for patients, parents/legal guardians, and physicians are available through the Board of Pharmacy. Cannabis extracts are produced and sold in Virginia only by specially licensed businesses called “pharmaceutical processors.” The Board of Pharmacy has issued approval to five pharmaceutical processors to produce and dispense these oils. The first sales of cannabis extracts began on October 14, 2020.