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Law Virginia


Well-Known Member
General Assembly Snuffs Marijuana Legalization Hopes for Now

RICHMOND Va. (WHSV) — Going into the 2020 legislative session, advocates say Democratic leaders had an ambitious marijuana reform agenda. By crossover day, several decriminalization bills passed their respective chambers, but hopes of legalization went up in smoke. Lawmakers, who say that the state isn’t ready for legalization yet, advanced decriminalization bills, incorporated a bulk of the measures and continued legalization measures to 2021.

House Bill 972, introduced by House Majority Leader Charniele Herring, D-Alexandria, will decriminalize simple possession of marijuana, replacing the current punishment of a maximum $500 fine and 30 days in jail with a $25 maximum fine and no criminal charges or jail
time. Substance abuse screening and loss of driving privileges for marijuana possession would be enacted for juveniles. Opponents say the bill unfairly punishes juveniles more than adults.

Herring’s bill incorporates three other decriminalization and possession bills. Police would handle the possession charge much like a summons for motor vehicle law violations, and no court costs would be incurred. The bill also mandates that previous simple possession convictions, charges and arrest records would be sealed.

“To legalize it now would not be good, but this hopefully would take us one step closer to reducing the arrest and jailing of people for simple possession,” Herring said during the third reading of the bill. The legislation passed with a 64-34 vote, garnering Republican support.

Senate Bill 2, introduced by Sen. Adam Ebbin, D-Alexandria, also passed this week.

Ebbin’s bill would decriminalize simple possession, providing a penalty of no more than $50 or five hours of community service.

SB 1015, sponsored by Sen. David Marsden, D-Fairfax, would allow a person prescribed cannabidiol oil to avoid possession charges passed the Senate and is currently in a House committee.

The Senate also approved a study to explore how Virginia should go about legalizing and regulating the growth, sale and possession of marijuana by July 1, 2022.

Advocates were most disappointed by the measures continued to the 2021 session. HB 87 and HB 269 proposed eliminating penalties for marijuana possession for persons over the age of 21 and decriminalizing for people under age 21. Those bills also tackled the regulation of marijuana retail.

Chelsea Higgs Wise, co-founder and executive director of Marijuana Justice, is disappointed that the General Assembly only advanced decriminalization measures, wishing that they had opted instead for HB 1507, which would make it illegal to possess a controlled substance other than marijuana unless the substance was prescribed. That bill, introduced by Del.
Jennifer Carroll Foy, D-Prince William, was continued to the 2021 session.

Higgs Wise believes that arrests may decrease, but people of color will continue to disproportionately suffer from penalties and fines.

“We know that these penalties will be enforced more heavily on black and brown people and looking across the nation, decriminalization has only called for an increase in racial disparities,” Higgs Wise said.

Herring said her bill will not eliminate racial disparities surrounding marijuana. The bill aims to prevent low-level offenders from receiving jail time for simple possession as the commonwealth moves toward legalization.

“This is an important step in improving the criminal justice system,” Herring said in a statement released after the bill passed. “While marijuana arrests across the nation have decreased, arrests in Virginia have increased.”

The Virginia chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union has frequently spoken out against decriminalization measures, saying that communities of color across the commonwealth are more than three times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than white people, despite similar usage rates.

“Lawmakers cannot claim progress on marijuana reform while still knowing that this legislation will only lead to greater racial disparities,” said Ashna Khanna, legislative director of the state chapter.

Decriminalization has gained traction in the commonwealth since Gov. Ralph Northam and Attorney General Mark Herring voiced their support. Northam’s criminal justice reform included a proposal to clear the records of individuals previously convicted of simple marijuana possession.

According to the state attorney general’s office, arrests for marijuana possession have increased from 9,000 in 1999 to 29,000 in 2018, with marijuana criminal enforcement costing the commonwealth over $81 million every year.

Attorney General Mark Herring believes that passing decriminalization bills is an important first step to moving Virginia toward legalized and regulated use.

“We must keep going because the work is not done,” the attorney general said in a statement after the bills advanced. “For too long, Virginia’s approach to cannabis has needlessly saddled Virginians, especially African Americans and people of color, with criminal records but with these votes that is finally coming to an end.”

The ACLU and Marijuana Justice have a rally planned Saturday afternoon to protest the marijuana decriminalization bills. The groups continue to promote legislation that would remove penalties for marijuana possession.


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Staff member
Virginia lawmakers vote to decriminalize marijuana, set $25 civil penalty for possession

Possession of small amounts of marijuana will no longer be punishable by jail time in Virginia under decriminalization legislation lawmakers sent to Gov. Ralph Northam on Sunday.

“This means close to 30,000 people a year will no longer be labeled as criminals and no longer will suffer the negative repercussions of a criminal conviction,” said Sen. Adam Ebbin, D-Alexandria, who carried the legislation in the Senate.

Similar to a traffic ticket

Under the legislation lawmakers passed, the drug will remain illegal, but violations of the law will be treated like minor traffic violations. The bill sets a $25 civil fine for possession of up to an ounce of the plant or products derived from it, including hash and oil concentrates. The legislation also seals records of past and future convictions and prohibits employers and educational institutes from inquiring about violations, with exceptions for law enforcement agencies.

Currently, possession of a half-ounce or less is punishable by up to 30 days in jail and a $500 fine. Possession of hash and other concentrates is punished as a felony. And while hefty fines and driver’s license suspensions are more common in practice than jail time, a point-in-time count in July 2017 found 127 people were being held in jail solely on a marijuana charge, according to a State Crime Commission report.

The decriminalization bill won bipartisan support in both chambers, passing the House on a 56-36 vote and the Senate 27-12.

If Gov. Ralph Northam, who has endorsed an earlier iteration of the legislation, agrees to the final bill, it will go into effect July 1, making Virginia the 26th state to either decriminalize the drug or legalize recreational adult use.


Well-Known Member
"Edibles, capsules, tinctures, topicals, and suppositories containing up to 10 milligrams of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC)"

IMO, VA continues to have a Potemkin Village version of a MMJ program.

Virginia Lawmakers Amend Cannabis Laws Anticipating a Safe and Profitable Industry

Medical cannabis will finally be available for sale in Virginia. What you need to know about the new laws, how to become a registered patient, how it could impact the economy, while debunking some of the myths and stigmas preventing federal legalization.
Lawmakers in the Commonwealth set an historic record, working overtime throughout the weekend of early March to close-out the 2020 legislative session. From increasing the minimum wage, bolstering LGBT protections, to ratifying equal rights for women, elected officials are implementing the policies Virginians voted for. A plethora of progressive bills have been sent to Governor Ralph Northam’s desk for his signature, including much-anticipated, bipartisan-supported cannabis reform.
Since Democrats gained control of the General Assembly last November, cannabis legislation has rapidly advanced. The passage of Senate Bill 2, which addresses decriminalization, has advocates rejoicing. The new measure reduces the state’s draconian criminal penalties for possession.
Currently, first-time offenders can be charged with a maximum fine of $500, and even sentenced to 30 days in jail. The new law, which goes into effect July 1, reduces the penalty to a civil offense – treated like a traffic violation – with a fine of $25 for possession of up to half an ounce. Civil charges won’t appear on records, and former convictions will be sealed. If patients or caregivers are stopped by law enforcement or must appear in court before July 1, they can show proof of “affirmative defense” with a VA medical cannabis card, obtained from the Virginia Board of Pharmacy. A recommendation for medical cannabis can be obtained from one of Virginia’s Board of Pharmacy-registered practitioners. Affirmative defense serves as legal proof that a certified practitioner has recommended cannabis to treat a patient’s medical condition. Additionally, it applies to pharmaceutical staff and caretakers, since nursing home and assisted care patients will be able to medicate with cannabis.
In February 2018, Governor Northam, who happens to be a physician, approved the Let Doctors Decide bill, after the Virginia Senate Education and Health Committee unanimously approved bipartisan-drafted legislation. Senator Siobhan Dunnavant (R-SD12), who introduced the companion bill SB 726, stated, “I finally decided that I needed to advocate for the physicians being the decision makers. We, physicians, are the ones that follow the literature and know which treatments are best for different conditions. The literature on medical cannabis is going to be evolving rapidly now, and because of this, it is not a decision that should be in the hands of the legislature. Instead, it should be with physicians.”
Around the same time SB 726 passed, the Virginia Board of Pharmacy approved five medical cannabis dispensaries to operate as “pharmaceutical operators.” Sales in Virginia are expected to boom, filling the economic void from the Commonwealth’s dwindling tobacco industry. Illinois kicked off the new year by legalizing recreational cannabis, and raked in profits of nearly $3.2M the first day.
Dispensaries are scheduled to open mid-year in Bristol, Richmond, Portsmouth, Staunton, and Manassas. Dalitso, LLC, a multi-state cannabis processor, will grow, sell, and regulate medical cannabis in a 50,000-square-foot facility in Manassas. Last September, Aaron Lopez, Dalitso’s spokesperson, met to address safety questions from the community at an event hosted by The Prevention Alliance of Greater Prince William.
Fielding questions from a group gathered in Novant Health UVA Prince William Medical Center, Lopez was joined by Jenn Michelle Pedini, development director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), and executive director of Virginia NORML. Lopez, a Virginia resident, explained how the company came together by a local group of like-minded professionals advocating for common sense cannabis reform. Lopez and Pedini fielded questions, explaining how cannabis will be safely processed and regulated, strictly abiding by State regulations. Dalitso will participate in monthly regulatory audits by the Virginia Board of Pharmacy. Products will be tested on-site, and by a third-party lab, to ensure they are contaminant-free. “That’s the main goal of this company, to make sure that it’s provided in a safe, effective and efficient way,” Lopez said.
Under the trade name Beyond-Hello, Dalitso will feature a storefront scheduled to open this summer. Beyond-Hello will offer delivery service to Virginia Board Pharmacy-registered patients in Health Service Area II, which includes Loudoun, Prince William, Arlington and Fairfax counties and the cities of Falls Church, Fairfax City, Manassas, Manassas Park and Alexandria.
Edibles, capsules, tinctures, topicals, and suppositories containing up to 10 milligrams of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), are among Beyond-Hello’s vast variety of medicinal products. State-registered staff can offer cultivar suggestions depending on a patient’s diagnoses, and patients can order up to a 90-day supply. Certain health conditions include, but are not limited to:
  • Chronic pain
  • Cancer
  • Severe Nausea
  • Epilepsy and other seizure disorders
  • Glaucoma
  • Neuropathic pain disorders
  • Crohn’s disease
  • Terminal illness
  • Spasticity
  • Muscle spasms
  • Anorexia and bulimia
  • Inflammation
  • Cachexia and wasting syndrome
Despite the recent advancement of cannabis reform, the Virginia ACLU argues that decriminalization doesn’t go far enough, and advocate for full cannabis legalization. The civil liberties union has written extensively about the racial disparity of cannabis-related arrests. A black person is 3.73 times more likely to be arrested for cannabis possession, while both black and white people use cannabis at similar rates. Around the time neighboring Maryland and DC opened dispensaries, Virginia cannabis possession arrests skyrocketed to the highest level in 20 years. In 2018, Virginia prosecuted close to 30,000 residents for cannabis possession. Roughly half of those arrested for first-time-possession charges are black, yet black people make-up only 20-percent of Virginia’s population. Virginia spends over $100M a year on cannabis-related law enforcement.
Recent statistics show two-thirds of Americans support cannabis decriminalization. And more than three-quarters of Virginia’s population approves of adult-use, medical cannabis. Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring responded by taking action.
Ahead of the 2020 legislative session, Herring spoke at the first-ever Cannabis Summit in Richmond last December. In his opening remarks, Herring stated:
“I don’t believe that Virginia’s current approach of criminalizing cannabis is working. It is needlessly creating criminals and burdening Virginians with convictions.” He continued, “The human and social costs are enormous, in addition to the millions of dollars it costs Virginia taxpayers. And the negative consequences of the current approach fall disproportionately on African Americans and people of color. It’s clear to me that the time for cannabis reform has come. Justice demands it. Virginians are demanding it. And I’m going to help make sure we get this right.”
The summit was coordinated by House Chair Steve Heretick (D-79) and Senate Chair Dave Marsden (D-37) who comprise Virginia’s newly formed Cannabis Control Commission. Hearing from policy makers, regulators, law enforcement, and other stakeholders, Virginia legislators learned about safe, successful medical cannabis programs in California, Illinois and Massachusetts.

Senator Marsden remarked:
“This effort will include a more robust medical cannabis program and Attorney General Herring’s summit is a big step in ensuring we are knowledgeable on the issue and prepared to do this right. There are better, smarter ways to handle cannabis policy. Virginia is ready for evidence-based reform and that is what we will provide.”
But it’s a tricky system, as cannabis is technically not legal in Virginia. Nor is it legal federally. So Virginia falls into the same legal limbo as the growing number of states and the District of Columbia who have expanded regulation of cannabis for adult use. So, until full legalization is passed, Virginians run the risk purchasing cannabis. Some may ask why anyone would take that chance, wondering if medical cannabis is worth it.
The story of a little girl named Charlotte Figi inspired Dr. Sanjay Gupta to do a complete 180 on cannabis. In 2009, Gupta wrote a blistering anti-cannabis article for Time titled, “Why I would Vote No on Pot”, which has since been retracted. Gupta initially argued that cannabis offers no medicinal value and should remain a Schedule 1 narcotic. By 2013, after a handful of states decriminalized cannabis, Gupta dedicated a year to traveling the world, researching the plant, starting with a trip to Colorado to meet Charlotte. He ultimately submitted an apology as part of a pro-cannabis documentary series titled, Weed for CNN.
Charlotte Figi was just three months old when she began suffering from uncontrollable seizures that lasted for three to four hours at a time. The first episode had her parents Matt and Paige rushing her to their local emergency room. The infant went through a series of MRI’s, neurological tests, and a spinal tap. The results were shocking. Charlotte’s blood results and images showed she was fine. The doctors were perplexed, and suggested Charlotte may grow out of it.
A week later, Charlotte’s eyes began fluttering to the back of her head again, and her body seized uncontrollably. The seizures became more frequent and lasted for longer durations. Charlotte’s ER visits increased, and she was placed on seven medications, including heavy-duty, addictive barbiturates and benzodiazepines. The relief from the drugs was only temporary, and her seizures were becoming more severe. At two, she began declining cognitively.
When Charlotte was two and a half, Matt and Paige took her to Children’s Hospital Colorado. A neurologist tested Charlotte for the SCN1A gene mutation, which is 80- percent common in Dravet Syndrome cases. The results confirmed what the ER doctors originally suspected, and Charlotte tested positive for the rare form of epilepsy. Paige and Matt were relieved they finally had a diagnosis and began an aggressive search for treatment.
But nothing was making Charlotte healthy. Matt had been a Green Beret at the time and decided to leave the military. Paige was juggling their two other children while Charlotte’s ER visits became more frequent, and days in the intensive care unit grew into weeks. The Figis traveled to Chicago to seek a Dravet specialist, who put Charlotte on a ketogenic diet specifically designed for epilepsy patients. When the body produces ketones, seizures are minimized. The diet stopped the seizures, but Charlotte’s immune system declined, causing her bone loss and a host of behavioral issues. The diet only worked for two years. Charlottes’ seizures came back.
The five-year-old began suffering 300 grand mal seizures a week. She was back in the hospital so often, her parents signed a “do not resuscitate” order. Charlotte’s heart had stopped several times, with her parents having to administer CPR waiting for the ambulance. The doctors even considered putting her in a medically induced coma, to end her lifelong suffering. The doctors admitted there was no more they could do. And then Matt discovered an online video that changed their family’s lives forever.
During Matt’s extensive online searches for other cases similar to Charlotte’s, he discovered a video of a California boy with Dravets. The video explained that cannabis was effective in stopping the boy’s seizures, without causing any negative medical, cognitive, or developmental side effects. The boy experienced no psychoactive reaction from the cannabis. It worked like magic. But the thought of a five-year-old experimenting with cannabis was unheard of.
Luckily for Charlotte, Colorado had passed Amendment 20 in the 2000 election, requiring the state to set-up a medical cannabis program. But Matt and Paige were in unchartered territory. Even though epilepsy is one of several medical ailments treatable with cannabis, scientists agree that until more research concludes otherwise, patients under 21 should not consume cannabis with high levels of THC.
An oil derived from the Cannabis Ruderalis-4 cultivar, similar to hemp, contains very low levels of THC, but is enriched with CBD. It was the very cultivar that stopped the California boy’s seizures. Matt and Paige knew Charlotte would be a Guinea pig candidate for this type of experiment. But they understood this was their only option. Naturally, it was an uphill battle to get Charlotte registered as a patient. It was 2011, a little over a decade after Colorado became one of the few pioneer states to sell cannabis, regulating an industry that was still growing its legs.
Paige admitted she was terrified to break federal law. She had consistently voted against marijuana legalization. But she paid $800 for two ounces of R4-cannabis, and her friend was able to process the CBD oil. They initially administered a small drop into Charlotte’s mouth. For the first hour, Charlotte went from having three or four seizures to none. Matt and Paige were stunned. They dosed her again, and the results were astounding. Charlotte had gone a full week from having a single seizure.
Charlotte’s life changed forever that day. She began to thrive physically. Within a year, she was able to walk again, feed herself, and even ride a bicycle. She receives two doses of CBD a day, which is mixed into her food. Her seizures occur only a few times a month, mostly while she sleeps. She became one of the handful of patients under 18 to receive a medical cannabis card. Cannabis saved Charlotte’s life, and her story saved the lives of other children struggling with epilepsy.
The Figi family learned about six brothers operating one of Colorado’s largest medical cannabis dispensaries, experimenting with various hybrid cultivars. One of which was the same R4-cultivar that changed the lives of Charlotte and the little boy in California. But due to the cultivar’s low THC levels, the Stanley brothers weren’t making much profit, since the majority of patients are adults seeking high percentages of THC. When they learned about Charlotte’s success story, the brothers worked together with the Figis and established the Realm of Caring Foundation, a non-profit charity that donates to patients fighting epilepsy, cancer, Parkinson’s, and a host of other costly diseases for patients who can’t afford treatment. The Stanley brothers named the R4-cultivar “Charlotte’s Web”.
For decades, advocates have debunked cannabis misconceptions and stigmas, providing lawmakers with evidence proving cannabis is a far safer alternative to prescription opioids. It’s been a challenge, particularly since the pharmaceutical industry remains the top political influencer in Washington. It didn’t help that pharmaceutical executives lied to the very same politicians they lobbied, claiming opioids are not addictive. By the early 2000’s, doctors’ offices were plastered with Purdue Pharmaceutical promotional posters, post-its and prescription pads. Pharmacies were doling out pills like candy.
Opioid addiction became a national crisis. In 2018, opioids claimed the lives of 67,300 Americans. Yet Big Pharma still profits more than any other industry. Opioid deaths in Virginia soared.
Number of overdose deaths involving opioids in Virginia, by opioid category. Drug categories presented are not mutually exclusive, and deaths might have involved more than one substance Source: CDC WONDER.
“Medical cannabis laws have demonstrated significant impact on the opiate crisis,” said Virginia NORML’s Jenn Michelle Pedini, a two-time cancer survivor, themselves. “States with such laws see on average a 25-percent reduction in opioid fatalities. We are losing three Virginians every day to opioid overdose. It’s time to give doctors in the Commonwealth the ability to utilize this powerful tool in mitigating addiction and overdose.”
Cannabis growers continue to experiment, combining genetics to develop unique hybrid cultivars. Researchers track cannabis development from seed to sale, finding more ways to treat a variety of diseases and ailments. Pharmaceutical Processors in Virginia will soon be able to recommend one of over 700 different cultivars of cannabis that combat a variety of medical and neurological diagnoses.
Virginians can learn more about medical cannabis, find a certified physician, register for a medical card, and receive up-to-date news on State legislation by visiting Virginia NORML’s website.


Well-Known Member
I almost refused to post this article as its pure propaganda. While these VA politicians pat themselves on the back and issue misleading press releases, WE KNOW that any thing that is limited to "Edibles, capsules, tinctures, topicals, and suppositories containing up to 10 milligrams of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC)" is not a legalized medical program.

Well, I guess I can stuff 5 or 10 suppositories up the ole' bung hole and get a buzz....maybe?? haha

Virginia: Governor Approves Bills to Decriminalize Marijuana and Legalize Medical Cannabis

Democratic Governor Ralph Northam has approved legislation (Senate Bill 2 | House Bill 972) decriminalizing marijuana possession offenses. Northam also recommended technical amendments which must be approved by the legislature before the new law takes effect July 1, 2020.

The law reduces penalties for offenses involving the possession of up to one ounce of marijuana to a civil violation – punishable by a maximum $25 fine, no arrest, and no criminal record.

Under current law, minor marijuana possession offenses are classified as criminal misdemeanors, punishable by up to 30 days in jail, a criminal record, and the possible loss of driving privileges. According to data from the Virginia Criminal Sentencing Commission, more than 15,000 people were convicted for a first or second marijuana possession offense from July 2018 to June 2019.

“Virginians have long opposed the criminalization of personal marijuana possession, and Governor Northam’s signature turns that public opinion into public policy,” said NORML Development Director Jenn Michelle Pedini, who also serves as the executive director of the state affiliate, Virginia NORML.

The new law also seals the criminal records of past marijuana offenders from employers and school administrators, and defines substances previously considered hashish as marijuana.

The bipartisan, bicameral effort to amend the state’s marijuana possession penalties was led by Senator Adam Ebbin (D-30) and House Majority Leader Delegate Charniele Herring (D-46). Commenting on the bills’ final passage, Sen. Ebbin said, “This is a major step forward for criminal justice reform in Virginia. The prohibition on marijuana has clearly failed, and impacts nearly 30,000 Virginians per year. It’s well past time that we stop doing damage to people’s employment prospects, educational opportunities, and parental rights.

Delegate Herring added: “[This] is an important step in mitigating racial disparities in the criminal justice system. While marijuana arrests across the nation have decreased, arrests in Virginia have increased. This bill will not eliminate the racial disparities surrounding marijuana, but it will prevent low-level offenders from receiving jail time for simple possession while we move toward legalization in coming years with a framework that addresses both public safety and equity in an emerging market.”
Governor Northam had previously gone on record in support of decriminalizing marijuana violations and expunging past convictions, as has Attorney General Mark Herring. “Decriminalization is an important first step on Virginia’s path towards legal, regulated adult use, and one many thought was still years away, but we cannot stop now. We’ve shown that smart, progressive reform is possible and we must keep going,” General Herring told Virginia NORML.

In March, the General Assembly approved multiple bills calling on officials to further study marijuana legalization and to make recommendations to lawmakers in advance of the 2021 legislative session.

In addition to approving marijuana decriminalization, Gov. Northam also signed Senate Bill 1015, which states that no person may be arrested, prosecuted, or denied any right or privilege for participating in the state’s medical cannabis program. The program is expected to be operational and dispensing cannabis products to authorized patients by mid-year. Northam also approved Senate Bill 976 expanding and improving this program, and suggested technical amendments which must be approved by the legislature before taking effect on July 1.

“As legislators became more comfortable with medical cannabis products, they recognized that patients and legal guardians of children and incapacitated adults need the protections of lawful possession instead of the affirmative defense. That is what SB 1015 provides — a statutory protection against prosecution, not merely an affirmative defense,” remarked Senator Dave Marsden (D-37), longtime champion of medical cannabis patients in the Commonwealth.

Added NORML’s Jenn Michelle Pedini: “Later this year, Virginia patients will finally have access to medical cannabis products and explicit legal protections thanks to Senator Marsden’s legislation. Additional dispensing facilities, telemedicine, and program registration for nonresidents are among some of the many legislative improvements we were able to accomplish this year.”

In total, sixteen marijuana-related bills succeeded in the 2020 Virginia General Assembly.


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Staff member
Virginia’s Marijuana Decriminalization: What It Means And How It Works

It’s not the same thing as legalization, but Democrats say it’s a step on the way.

Marijuana has been an issue for Virginia’s General Assembly for decades, going back as far as 1979 when the state became one of the first to legalize medical use of marijuana. (It was later repealed.) But this year, history was made when Gov. Ralph Northam signed a bill decriminalizing simple possession of marijuana in the commonwealth into law, fulfilling a promise stemming back to his 2017 campaign.

But why is this act so groundbreaking? What is the difference between decriminalization and legalization? And what does this mean for the future of marijuana in Virginia? We are here to explain all the ins and outs of Virginia’s new policies on marijuana.

Decriminalization vs. Legalization

Marijuana is not technically legal in Virginia yet, it has only been decriminalized. But many advocates make the argument that decriminalizing the drug is the important first step on the road to legalization.

“Decriminalization is an incredibly important first step, and one that many thought we may never see in Virginia, but we cannot stop until we have legal and regulated adult use,” Attorney General Mark Herring said in a statement.

The newly passed bill gets rid of the $500 penalty and criminal charges you previously got for possessing a small amount of marijuana. Instead, possession of an ounce of weed or less is treated carries a $25 fine and will not carry criminal charges.

The bill also does the following:

-Provides any violation to be charged in the same summons as a traffic violation

-Makes records relating to past possession of marijuana closed to public inspection

-Prohibits employers or educational institutions from requiring someone to disclose information on a past marijuana-related arrest, criminal charge or conviction

Why is This Important?

Advocates argue that decriminalizing is necessary due to the racial disparities around who gets arrested for possession. According to a 2020 study by the American Civil Liberties Union, African Americans are almost four times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession.

“In every single state, Black people were more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession, and in some states, Black people were up to six, eight, or almost ten times more likely to be arrested,” the authors wrote.

A 2013 study from Dr. John Gettman of Shenandoah University found the marijuana possession arrest rate for black people was three times higher than white people in 47 out of Virginia’s 50 jurisdictions.

Attorney General Herring said that the state will become “a more fair, just and equal place” with the decriminalization of possession of small amounts of marijuana.

The Future of Marijuana in Virginia

Along with decriminalization, the bill also proposed a group to study the effects of fully legalizing marijuana in the state. The deadline for the report was set for November 30, but Northam requested that it be extended by a full year due to the coronavirus pandemic. However, that request was denied by the state Senate on April 23.

The governor also proposed eliminating a defendant’s ability to request a jury trial after being cited for marijuana possession. However, this was rejected by both the House and the Senate.

“Decriminalization is a victory worth celebrating, but as we have said repeatedly, it is not a public policy solution for marijuana prohibition,” said Michelle Pedini, the executive director of marijuana legalization advocacy group Virginia NORML.

The law is scheduled to go into effect on July 1.


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Staff member
Lawmakers In Virginia Capital Vote To End Marijuana Testing Of City Workers

The Richmond, Virginia City Council has approved a resolution that requests the city stop testing certain workers for marijuana as a condition of their employment.

Councilwoman Stephanie Lynch (D) introduced the measure, which she said would help align the body with the state legislature, which passed a bill to decriminalize possession of cannabis this session.

“As a forward-looking and progressive city, we need to adapt and change with the times, as policy has,” Lynch told Virginia Public Media. “In an environment where we are in such shortage of good employees, in my mind, it doesn’t make sense to be terminating folks just for failing a marijuana test.”

The resolution advanced out of the Council’s Education and Human Services Standing Committee last week and the full panel approved it as part of the consent agenda without debate on Monday.

Text of the measure states that the “Council hereby requests that the Mayor amend the Administrative Regulations of the City, to the extent permitted by law, to exclude from substance detection testing the testing of City employees and applicants for employment with the City, except for public safety personnel and applicants for public safety positions, for marijuana use.”

While the resolution doesn’t specify what safety-sensitive positions will still be subject to drug testing, local media reports that police and firefighters would be exempt from the policy change. Mayor Levar Stoney (D) supports the goals of the measure, a spokesman said.

The resolution also emphasizes that the proposal is in response to lawmakers passing decriminalization legislation on the state level. The governor approved the bill last month, but he also recommended a series of amendments. Most of those were approved, but because they rejected two, it is being returned to his desk for a final signature or veto. The bill also contains a provision requiring a working group to study and make recommendations about broader adult-use marijuana legalization.

“We applaud Councilwoman Lynch for prioritizing this issue and Mayor Stoney for supporting it,” Jenn Michelle Pedini, executive director of the Richmond-based Virginia NORML, told Marijuana Moment. “Virginia’s first medical dispensaries will open this year, and the Commonwealth is in the process of studying a regulatory framework for adult-use.”

“Now is the time for municipalities throughout the state to review and update their policies so they may better align with state law and public opinion,” they said.

There was some opposition to the measure, including from Council Vice President Chris Hilbert who argued that the policy conflicts with the city charter, which requires councilmembers and the mayor to resign from office if they’re convicted of possessing marijuana.

“I’m worried that we have one standard for employees and another for the officers and members of the governing body of the city,” he said.

Regardless, Hilbert joined his colleagues in unanimously approving the resolution.

Stoney said that he will be forming a working group to implement the requested policy.

This development comes days after legislation banning pre-employment drug testing for cannabis went into effect in New York City.


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Staff member

Virginia Governor Officially Signs Marijuana Decriminalization Bills Into Law

The governor of Virginia signed a pair of identical bills on Thursday to decriminalize marijuana possession in the state.

Following the lawmakers’ initial passage of the measures in March, Gov. Ralph Northam (D) recommended a series of amendments and sent the legislation back to the Senate and House of Delegates for consideration. While they adopted 15 amendments, they rejected two, including one that proposed to delay a required study into the impact of broader cannabis legalization.

The revised bills were sent back to Northam, and now he’s officially approved them. In a press release, Northam didn’t explicitly discuss the decriminalization legislation but said he is “proud of the accomplishments we made together during this General Assembly session.”

“We advanced long-neglected priorities, including rights and protections for Virginians,” he said. “We were able to redirect funding to address the COVID-19 pandemic, and a number of the laws we enacted are proving to be more important than ever.”

With the signing of the bills—HB 972 and SB 2—Northam has fulfilled a campaign promise he made back in 2017. As governor, he has repeatedly stressed the need for reform, including in his State of the Commonwealth addresses.

Under the legislation, possessing up to one ounce of cannabis will be punishable by a $25 fine with no threat of jail time and no criminal record. Current Virginia law makes simple possession punishable by a maximum $500 fine, up to 30 days in jail and a criminal record.

“This victory comes after many years of sustained effort by Virginia NORML and its membership,” Jenn Michelle Pedini, executive director of Virginia NORML, told Marijuana Moment. “And while we applaud Governor Northam, his administration, and the legislature for taking this step, it’s critical that they work swiftly to legalize and regulate the responsible of cannabis by adults and begin undoing the damages prohibition has waged on tens of thousands of Virginians.”

Marijuana Policy Project Executive Director Steve Hawkins also praised the reform.

“The move to decriminalize cannabis possession in Virginia is long overdue,” he said in a press release. “We applaud the legislature and the governor for implementing a policy that will allow law enforcement to focus resources on more serious crimes and prevent Virginians from having their lives derailed for possessing cannabis, a substance that is safer than alcohol.”

Virginia will officially become the 27th state to remove the threat of jail time for possessing small amounts of marijuana when the law takes effect on July 1, and will be the first to do so in 2020.

Separately, in Virginia’s capital city, Richmond, local lawmakers approved a resolution last week that requests the city stop testing certain workers for marijuana as a condition of their employment.


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Marijuana arrests down 8 percent in Virginia: On eve of decriminalization

Marijuana-related marijuana arrests declined more than 8 percent from 2018 to 2019, according to annual data compiled by the Virginia State Police.

State law enforcement officials recorded 26,470 arrests for marijuana violations in 2019, down from 28,866 in 2018.

Marijuana-related arrests comprised 57 percent of all drug-related arrests recorded in 2019. Approximately half of those arrested for cannabis violations were age 24 or younger.

Under state law first-time possession offenders face up to 30 days in jail and a criminal record. Subsequent offenses are punishable by up to one-year in prison.

Those penalties change on July 1, 2020 when the state’s newly enacted marijuana decriminalization law takes effect. Under the new law, offenses involving personal possession of up to one ounce of marijuana are a civil violation – punishable by a maximum $25 fine, no arrest, and no criminal record.

The year-over-year decline in marijuana arrests marks a reversal in policing trends. Between 2016 and 2018, marijuana-related arrests rose 25 percent in the state. Historically, African Americans have been arrested in Virginia for violating cannabis laws at more than three times the rates of Caucasians.

NORML Development Director Jenn Michelle Pedini, who also serves as the executive director of the state affiliate chapter, Virginia NORML, welcomes the change in enforcement priorities.

“It is a positive sign that after years of heightened enforcement, we’re now seeing a downward trend in marijuana-related arrests in Virginia. Following the enactment of decriminalization on July 1, we expect to see an even more drastic reduction in these arrests — arrests that, historically, have disproportionately impacted the poor, the young, and people of color.”

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