Virginia legalizes cannabis; law will take effect on July 1, 2021
Last update: April 7, 2021
On April 7, 2021, the Virginia General Assembly voted to approve amendments proposed by Gov. Ralph Northam that will make the adult-use legalization bill (HB 2312/SB 1406) take effect on July 1, 2021, instead of in 2024. The amended bill also includes an expedited process for expunging and sealing criminal records.
This makes Virginia the first state in the South, and the 17th in the nation, to legalize cannabis for adults! The House and Senate had previously voted on February 27 to pass the bill and send it to Gov. Northam’s desk. You can read a summary of the new law here.
MPP remains concerned about a provision in the law that will criminalize bringing small amounts of cannabis into Virginia for personal use. On March 3, 2021, 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. The provision requires re-enactment in 2022, and we will continue working to get this provision removed.
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.
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.
In 2021, the legislature passed legislation that will improve the medical cannabis law by allowing patients to use whole-plant, “botanical” cannabis (HB 2218/SB 1333). The legislature also passed a bill that will protect patients from being disciplined or fired by their employers for using medical cannabis away from work (HB 1862). Gov. Northam signed the bills in March, and they will take effect on July 1, 2021.
You can check out our full summary of the medical cannabis 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.