Virginia Legislation Legalizing Cannabis SB 1406 and HB 2312

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Thursday February 11, 2021

While legalization of adult cannabis is gaining increasing support across the country, many lawmakers have been slow to translate that support into legislative action. That is changing in Virginia. In 2020, Virginia decriminalized simple possession (up to one ounce) of cannabis and fined up to $ 25 civilly. On February 5, 2021, the Virginia House and Senate took another significant step when they both passed laws authorizing the legalization of adult cannabis in Virginia. Senate Act 1406 passed 23-15 votes. House Bill 2312 voted 55-42 votes.

There are differences in the bills that have to be resolved in a conference committee. However, it is likely that a bill legalizing adult use will go through conference and be sent for the signature of Governor Ralph Northam. Governor Northam has already announced his support for the legalization of adult cannabis. When passed, Virginia would be the 16th state to legalize recreational cannabis, but only the 3rd state to do so solely through the legislative process.

Important rules and penalties in both bills:

  • Adults 21 years or older can own up to an ounce of cannabis or an equivalent amount of cannabis product.

  • A household can grow up to two mature and two immature cannabis plants in their primary residence.

  • Possession of more than an ounce of cannabis continues to be punishable by a fine of up to $ 25.

  • Possession of more than five pounds can result in a prison sentence of up to 10 years.

  • Ownership on school premises can result in a prison sentence of up to 6 months.

  • Bringing cannabis to Virginia would result in up to a year in prison.

Regulatory and licensing framework in both bills:

  • A cannabis control agency, led by a five-member board of directors, is being established to regulate the adult cannabis market.

  • Social justice applicants receive licensing priority.

  • A team to support cannabis business equity and diversity is established.

  • A Cannabis Public Health Advisory Council will be established to provide public health recommendations.

  • The requirements for tracking, packaging, and labeling the sale of seeds, including government-issued risk information and warning labels, are included.

  • A state tax of 21% would be levied at the point of sale. The municipalities could levy their own tax up to 3%.

  • Part of the tax revenue would, among other things, be earmarked for the pre-K education of children at risk and for the treatment and prevention of drug abuse.

Both bills also provide for automatic deletion of marijuana-related offenses and, under certain circumstances, allow requests for deletion of marijuana-related offenses.

The House and Senate bills differ in the role and scope of local government involvement. The Senate law allows local authorities to ban cannabis stores through referendums.

Both bills set January 1, 2024 as the earliest date for retail cannabis sales to begin. As Virginia moves towards 2024, the regulatory framework at both the state and local levels will continue to grow in size and complexity.

Copyright © 2020 Womble Bond Dickinson (USA) LLP All rights reserved.National Law Review, Volume XI, Number 42