Virginia has a robust medical marijuana program, but recreational cannabis and hemp are in legislative limbo.
The Virginia General Assembly failed to pass a law for recreational cannabis sales and determine penalties for possessing more than two pounds of marijuana. However, the General Assembly made it easier to get a medical cannabis card.
The general perception of Virginia voters is anger that their legislators cannot find compromises that will allow for recreational marijuana to be sold in the state.
The House of Delegates, controlled by Republicans, did not pass a bipartisan Senate bill through a subcommittee. The bill would have made retail sales easier to pass in the House, possibly moving the cannabis trade to September 2022. As of now, retail sales of recreational marijuana will not occur until 2024, as initially proposed in the legalization legislation. Further delaying the retail market opening because aspects of the 2021 bill were not reenacted, effectively making retail sales unlikely to begin until after 2024.
Many potential cannabis consumers are concerned that a few large companies will control the cannabis market in Virginia. Small cannabis farms seeking to join the retail market are hamstrung by large growers’ license fees, restrictions, and price competition.
The pervasive attitude among the Virginia public who are closely following the recreational marijuana legislation is that the state may turn over the recreational market to corporations and not allow the small operators the opportunity to compete.
And this is somewhat true. Lobbyists have persuaded many legislators to believe it is safer for a limited number of larger providers to produce products for consumers rather than have hundreds of small producers. Regulating hundreds of mall operators will be expensive and complicated.
Without a recreational cannabis market, consumers will have to grow their own or apply for a medical marijuana card. Governor Youngkin eliminated the requirement for medical marijuana patients to register with the state Board of Pharmacy before being approved to purchase and consume medical cannabis products.
Delegate Roxann L. Robinson introduced House Bill 933, which allows a patient to bypass obtaining a card from the Board of Pharmacy after getting a referral from a medical provider. Pharmaceutical processors and cannabis dispensing facilities must update the board with newly written certifications each month. The Board of Pharmacy issued 1,377 medical cannabis cards in 2019 after medical marijuana providers approved low-dose THC oil. In 2018, 7,135 cards were issued.
By 2021 33,340 medical marijuana cards had been issued. The General Assembly approved the sale of cannabis flowers, or buds that are smoked, with a medical card. The Board has issued 10,055 cards as of early April 2022. There are 6,000 pending applications.
Grow Your Own
With so much uncertainty regarding when Virginia will finally have a consumer market for recreational cannabis, many people have realized they do not have much choice but to grow if they want a steady supply. A consumer of cannabis can grow up to four plants for their consumption. The plants must not be visible from the street and must be labeled with the grower’s name, driver’s license, or state ID number. Many consumers prefer the ‘grow your own’ mentality. Marijuana is not difficult to grow, and with a bit of experience and some good seeds, you can grow perfectly potent cannabis at no cost. Some marijuana consumers prefer homegrown to medical marijuana grown by a private company. Health insurance does not cover medical marijuana. Growers know precisely what is in their product. For the most part, growers stick to organic techniques, avoiding synthetic fertilizers and herbicides.
Growers caught with more plants than the law allows or more than four plants. The fine can go up to $250 for up to ten plants, and the grower can face felony charges for growing up to 50 plants.
Virginia has four licensed medical cannabis companies to serve five health districts. The licensed dispensaries can only provide cannabis in their respective districts. Currently, there are 11 medical marijuana dispensaries in Virginia. Some health districts, such as Richmond, have multiple dispensaries to serve their consumers. The products sold at medical marijuana dispensaries can be expensive. Many consumers have to drive a long way to get to a medical cannabis dispensary. For some medical consumers, a trip to the dispensary can take hours. Patient access is an issue throughout Virginia. All of these factor into some consumers choosing to grow their own cannabis. These growers can decide what is best for them regarding the strain of marijuana and the method of growing it.
Modifications to the 2021 Legalization Bill
Senate bill 591 was initially passed to make using depictions of animals, vehicles, fruits, and vehicles that might persuade children under 21 to investigate medical marijuana their parents bring home. Many growers supported this provision because they do not want their products to be used by underage people.
Lawmakers passed a bill that states the definition of marijuana is any substance containing over .3 percent or more significant than .25 milligrams of THC per serving or more than .25 milligrams per package. The bill also cracked down on the Delta-8 market, or synthetically produced products with higher THC levels. Industrial hemp farmers were concerned because some market products could surpass the allowable levels.
Governor Youngkin increased legal penalties for possession of cannabis, making it a misdemeanor to possess two to six ounces of cannabis. The offender could get up to six months in jail and up to $1,000 in fines. The Governor recommended to the legislature that they make possession of between two to 16 ounces be a Class 1 misdemeanor. The current penalty for possessing that amount of cannabis is a $25 fine.
Some legislators were angry that Youngkin was trying to impose penalties for possession. The recreational cannabis bill was intended to abolish those penalties so that cannabis users did not get caught up in the legal system again for relatively minor possession cases.
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