Legislature convenes for special session; cannabis reforms advancing
Last update: August 31, 2020
The Virginia Legislature has convened for a special session to focus on budgeting, criminal justice, and police reform. It is still undecided how long the session will last.
So far in the special session, the Senate has approved two modest cannabis reform bills. One of the bills, SB 5029, would prevent law enforcement from using the odor of cannabis as a pretext for searching and seizing property. The other, SB 5013, would give people issued a summons for cannabis possession the option of prepaying the civil penalty instead of having to go to court. Additionally, Delegate Jennifer Carroll Foy (D) has introduced legislation to legalize simple possession.
There has been increasing momentum from the Black Caucus and other elected officials to consider legalization during the special session, and a legalization workgroup set to produce findings by November 30 has begun meeting.
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. 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.
The Virginia Legislative Black Caucus included legalization on its list of priorities for a special session set for August. The decriminalization law also creates a work group to study legalization in Virginia and make recommendations by November 30, 2020.
Virginia's quasi-medical marijuana law keeps improving
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 the program.
Once the latest improvements go into effect on July 1, 2020, Virginia patients with any condition are able to receive recommendations to use and purchase cannabis preparations with no more than 10 milligrams of THC per dose. Flower is not allowed.
In 2018, Gov. Ralph Northam signed HB 1251, allowing doctors to recommend CBD or THC-A cannabis oil for any condition.
In 2019, Gov. Northam signed legislation allowing physician's assistants and licensed nurse practitioners to issue recommendations.
In April 2020, the governor approved a bill that legalizes CBD and THC-A rich medical cannabis products for registered patients.
In April 2020, lawmakers approved a revised version of SB 976, which will allow marijuana extracts containing at least five mg of either cannabidiol (CBD) or THC-A and no more than 10mg of THC per dose beginning on July 1, 2020. It also allows up to 25 dispensing locations.
Registration applications for patients, parents/legal guardians, and physicians are available now through the Board of Pharmacy. Cannabis extracts will be produced and sold in Virginia only by specially licensed businesses called “pharmaceutical processors.” The Board of Pharmacy has issued conditional approval to five pharmaceutical processors to produce and dispense these oils. Cannabis extracts are not expected to be available for purchase from processors in Virginia until summer 2020 at the earliest.
MPP will continue to monitor the implementation of this law; for our one-page summary, please click here.