As cannabis legalization starts to overtake the East Coast like dominos, the next state that may fall in line could be Virginia. In the wake of New York approving recreational marijuana, becoming the second most populous state in the country to do so after California, Virginia Governor Ralph Northam has recommended adding in an amendment in its already existing adult-use legislation that the timeline be pushed up to July 1, 2021 instead of January 1, 2024.
If approved by Virginia lawmakers, the earlier date would legalize personal cultivation of cannabis by adults while the later one would legalize commercial cannabis production and sales. Those ages 21 and over would be allowed to possess up to one ounce of marijuana and to cultivate up to four cannabis plants per household without penalty. The legislature is set to reconvene on April 7, 2021 to accept or reject the proposed amendments.
In a statement, Governor Northam seemed confident that the legislation would pass this week. “Our Commonwealth is committed to legalizing marijuana in an equitable way,” he said.
The proposed legislation will also create an independent agency, the Virginia Cannabis Control Authority, to oversee the establishment of regulations to govern the adult-use market. The remainder of the 300-page bill, which details the regulatory and market structure and social equity provisions, will hold a second review and vote by the Assembly next year.
For Virginia, this couldn’t come at a more opportune time. According to statewide polling data, a majority of registered voters in the state support legalizing adult-use marijuana. Based on this groundswell of approval, Jenn Michelle Pedini, development director of cannabis advocacy nonprofit NORML, as well as executive director of Virginia NORML, the state branch, feels Virginians have been very clear that they are ready for legalization this year. “We’re pleased Governor Northam agrees with NORML that the legalization of personal possession and personal cultivation ought to happen as soon as possible,” she said.
However, she did voice her disapproval that the legislation would not permit the state to expand from its medical to adult-use market the way other states have done. She feels this is a mistake that could have negative repercussions on creating a safe and equitable market.
“In the interest of public and consumer safety, Virginians 21 and older should be able to purchase retail cannabis products at the already operational dispensaries in 2021, not in 2024,” she said. “Such a delay will only exacerbate the divide for equity applicants and embolden illicit activity.”
As noted in a news announcement touting the amendments, Governor Northam did approve “multiple medical cannabis measures permitting dispensaries to provide botanical formulations of cannabis, expanding telehealth access for patients, and protecting registered patients who use cannabis in their off-hours from discrimination in the workplace.”