House, Senate reach agreement on legalization policies; bill advances to Gov. Ralph Northam’s desk
Last update: March 3, 2021
On Saturday, February 27, the Virginia House and Senate voted to approve a final compromise on the adult-use legalization bill. The bill, as amended, will proceed to the desk of Gov. Ralph Northam, who supports legalization. The governor could either sign the bill or request amendments, which would then be considered by the legislature.
You can read a summary of the final legislation here. Possession and cultivation of cannabis will not become legal for adults until January 1, 2024, but the state will begin laying the groundwork for the regulated market beginning this July.
MPP is concerned about a provision in the bills that would criminalize bringing small amounts of cannabis into Virginia for personal use. On March 3, we sent this letter to Gov. Northam and asked him to request an amendment to exempt one ounce or less from this new criminal penalty. If you live in Virginia, please email Gov. Northam and ask him to fix this problem.We are also encouraging him to move up the legal use date to July 1, 2021.
On Friday, February 5, the Virginia House and Senate each passed legalization bills — SB 1406 and HB 2312. The House voted 55-42 to pass HB 2312, and the Senate passed SB 1406 by a 23-15 margin. SB 1406 is sponsored by Senators Adam Ebbin and Louise Lucas, and HB 2312 is sponsored by House Majority Leader Charniele Herring.
Since the bills were not identical, the legislature set up a conference committee to reconcile differences between the two bills and make final decisions regarding the policy.
The House and Senate also passed legislation that would require the automatic expungement of criminal records for past offenses, including cannabis offenses (HB 2113 and SB 1339). HB 2113 passed the House 60-39, and SB 1339 passed the Senate 21-18. On February 25, the legislature reached agreement on a final version of the bill, which will advance to the governor’s desk.
Decriminalization law expanded during special session
During a special session in late 2020, both chambers of the Virginia General Assembly approved modest cannabis reform bills that build on the decriminalization bill the legislature enacted earlier in the 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 — became law and 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 cannabis. In doing so, Virginia became the 27th state to decriminalize simple cannabis possession The new law went into effect on July 1, 2020.
Under the new law, possession of one ounce or less of cannabis is a civil penalty punishable by up to a $25 fine. It also created a workgroup to study legalization. You can read a full summary of the bill here.
This reform was long overdue. Previously, cannabis 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 cannabis 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 cannabis 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.
In 2021, the legislature passed legislation that would improve the medical cannabis law by allowing patients to use whole-plant cannabis (HB 2218 and SB 1333). HB 2218 passed the House in a 93-3 vote, and SB 1333 passed the Senate unanimously. On February 23, the House and Senate reached agreement on a final version of the bill. It will advance to the governor’s desk, where it is expected to receive his signature.
Several 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.