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Lawmakers in Virginia Debate How to Set Up the Industry

Virginia voted to legalize recreational cannabis last year. However, as has happened in other states that passed a legalization law, developing a regulated market is now on the table, and there are several important and complex issues up for debate. The Virginia General Assembly will consider several bills that seek to structure the industry and provide a timeline for retail sales.

In the original legislation, sales were to start in 2024. But supporters of cannabis reform want to begin sales on July 1, using the existing distribution chain from medical marijuana. While the General Assembly is closely divided, with Republicans in charge in the House and Democrats in control in the Senate, there is bipartisan support to develop a plan for adult-use sales soon, perhaps as soon as July 1. A fully regulated, statewide retail system is still likely to take until 2024 to develop.

Both sides in the debate disagree with speeding up the timeline. They believe it will benefit current sellers of illegal cannabis at the expense of the public. Democrats believe giving untaxed, unregulated illicit operators control over the market for even a short time is a risk to public safety and consumer health. Republicans feel speeding up the timetable effectively promotes illegal trade before the state establishes the legal retail market. But there is bipartisan support for working through as many retail issues as possible in this session of the Virginia General Assembly.

What Became Legal in Virginia on July 1, 2021?

Many are aware that cannabis was legalized in Virginia, but not everyone is aware of the actual laws and amounts that people can possess. Under the Commonwealth’s new law, cannabis legalization includes:

  • Adult users of cannabis must be 21 or over
  • Adult users can only smoke cannabis on private property. If the property owner prohibits cannabis smoking, the smokers must leave the property.
  • Adult users may grow four plants of marijuana per household. Adult sharing of up to one ounce of cannabis is legal. Still, there cannot be payment of any kind, including goods or services or any other exchange.

What Remains Illegal in Virginia?

Cannabis is not legal in specific amounts, and there are laws against consumption in specific circumstances. These include:

  • No one may possess more than an ounce of marijuana. If someone is caught with more than an ounce but less than a pound, they will receive a civil penalty of $25. Being caught with a pound or more is a felony.
  • It remains illegal for anyone under 21 to possess or consume cannabis.
  • It is still illegal to distribute marijuana in any form, either for money or by gifting it.
  • Drivers cannot smoke marijuana while driving and cannot smoke if they are passengers. Cannabis is not allowed on school grounds or in a commercial vehicle.
  • It is illegal to consume or offer anyone marijuana in a public place.

Promoting Social Equity

Promoting social equity was one of the core motivations for the marijuana legalization movement. Specific factors like implementing criminal justice reforms and reinvesting in communities hard hit by marijuana prohibitions were essential parts of the argument for passing the reform.

The law will require the state to develop a timeline to seal cannabis-related criminal records. The day the law passed, misdemeanor possession and intent to distribute convictions were automatically sealed from the Virginia State Police’s systems. By 2025, arrest records, including arrests, charges, and convictions for simple possession and misdemeanor distribution, will be automatically sealed across all state and private databases. These reforms of criminal record-keeping aim to remove impediments of Virginians seeking employment, housing and education opportunities that a marijuana conviction may impact.

The law will also initiate the creation of the Cannabis Equity Reinvestment Fund. This fund will receive 30 percent of all tax profits. The community-led Reinvestment Fund will be used to rectify and address the impact of disinvestment and unfair and heavy-handed law enforcement in specific communities.

Does Virginia’s Marijuana Reform Law Have Provisions to Protect Public Health?

These cannabis reform laws place great importance on preventing youth access to marijuana. They ban advertising that is attractive to young people. Stores will be prohibited near schools. Warning labels are mandated on cannabis packaging, and child-protect locks are also required. The law will reserve 25 percent of taxable income for substance abuse prevention and treatment, in addition to 5 percent for public health programs.

Getting into the Marijuana Business

Undoubtedly, many people will want to become cannabis entrepreneurs when the law allows them to be. It is a profitable and very popular product. However, the procedure for obtaining a marijuana business license has not been determined yet and will likely not be available until 2023. There are many regulations and policies to be developed before anyone can start a marijuana business. But at least cannabis is not illegal to possess in Virginia, which is a step forward.

Cannabis Digest and Virginia’s New Cannabis Laws

At Cannabis Digest, our team is carefully monitoring the new laws and regulations regarding marijuana sales and consumption across the U.S. This includes the recent developments in states like Virginia, where cannabis is now legal, but the specifics of the law and enforcement are still largely in question. We will continue to monitor the developments here, so check back on our blog for updates. We know that what happens in one state will often affect another, and the eyes of the industry remain fixed on the Commonwealth of Virginia as legislators work to determine how to regulate and force the new laws.

For more information on cannabis regulation, legalization, and other issues, read the following stories here:

New Jersey likely to miss late February target date for legal cannabis sales

Thailand Takes Steps Towards Legalizing Cannabis

House of Representatives Set to Vote Again on Marijuana Banking Reform

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