The legalization of recreational marijuana was a major topic of the 2021 Virginia General Assembly. Governor Northam announced that legalization would be a major policy objective of his Administration late in 2020 and subsequently crafted legislation to that effect.
The bill was carried in the House of Delegates by Delegate Charniele Herring and in the Senate by Senator Louise Lucas. The legislation laid out a regulatory framework for the sale, cultivation, and distribution of retail marijuana in the Commonwealth.
Originally, the regulatory authority overseeing all aspects of marijuana, to include hemp and medical cannabis, was the Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control Authority. However, the General Assembly felt that a new Authority dealing specifically with cannabis was a more prudent option.
This new Authority was added into the legislation along with several other boards and advisory commissions. These additional entities will advise on items such as equity, community reinvestment, education, and health issues. The majority of changes are under various re-enactment clauses. These clauses require that the General Assembly affirmatively act on the various statutes in the 2022 session.
The final bills, as amended by the legislature, passed the General Assembly and were sent to the Governor for his signature.
During the final days of debate on these bills, there were several legislators who expressed concern that not enough had been done around criminal justice reform and, specifically, the legalization of simple possession of small amounts of marijuana, and small-scale cultivation for personal use.
During the time between adjournment of the 2021 session and the beginning of the reconvene session, these legislators and various advocacy groups lobbied Governor Northam to amend the bills to address these concerns.
These efforts were successful. The Governor amended both bills and sent them to the General Assembly to act upon during the reconvene session.
In effect the Governor’s amendments do the following:
- No penalty for possession of up to 1 oz. of marijuana.
- A $25 civil penalty for possession of more than 1 oz. up to 1 lb. of marijuana.
- The ability to grow up to four cannabis plants for personal use at your primary residence. The plants must not be in view of a public right of way and each plant must be tagged with your name, social security or drivers identification number, and a notation that it is being grown for personal use. Additionally, you must take reasonable precautions to prevent access to persons under two years of age.
These amendments were accepted by the General Assembly. Both the legalization of simple possession and the ability to cultivate plants becomes effective on July 1 of this year. It is important to note, however, that there is no legal means of acquiring marijuana for recreational use. Additionally, there is no legal way to purchase seeds or plants for personal cultivation.
We expect that this issue will be a major topic during the 2022 session as well and that extensive changes will be made. We will keep you informed as the laws around retail marijuana evolve.