Tuesday, April 20, 2021

4/20 Marijuana Legislation

On July 1, 2021 it will be legal for adults in Virginia to possess small amounts of marijuana in their homes.  

The General Assembly met for a one-day session on April 7th to review the Governor’s proposed amendments to 37 pieces of legislation that passed during the 2021 Session in addition to 18 budget amendments. This also included the 280-page bill to legalize the possession and regulate the marketing and sale of cannabis and cannabis products in the Commonwealth.

Some people call this annual session which is always scheduled for the 6th Wednesday after adjournment the “Veto Session.” However, the proper designation is Reconvened Session, because even when the Governor doesn’t veto ANY bills (as was the case in 2021) we still have to get together.

Most of the recommendations were technical fixes or friendly amendments, with the House and Senate accepting almost all of them.  

So, let’s talk about what the final version of the Marijuana bill, with the Governor’s amendments now adopted, does, what it doesn’t do, and what it lays the framework for doing later.  

Starting on July 1, 2021, adults over the age of 21 can legally possess up to 1 ounce of marijuana for personal use. You will also be allowed to grow up to four plants per household, provided that the plants are labeled, not in public sight, and out of the reach of anyone underage.

Possession is still prohibited for those under the age of 21, and it’s still illegal to sell marijuana, smoke it in public, or to have open a container of it in your car.  

Starting on July 1, 2025, arrests and convictions for marijuana possession will be automatically sealed and not subject to disclosure. If you have a felony distribution or misdemeanor paraphernalia conviction on your record, you can petition the court to seal your record.
Government Oversight & Regulation

The legislation establishes several entities to oversee the regulation, distribution, and equitable application of this new law.  

It creates a Virginia Cannabis Control Authority to write regulations regarding the possession, sale, and distribution of retail marijuana and related products. A major component of this legislation is to ensure social equity and ensure communities that have been impacted by over-policing of marijuana and drugs benefit from the new marijuana economy legalization will bring about.  

To that end, the legislation establishes the Cannabis Equity Reinvestment Board and Fund, which will receive funding from the fees paid by licensed distributing companies and from the taxes from legal sales. With this, the Board will create scholarship programs and grant funds to support communities disproportionately and historically targeted by drug enforcement laws. Workforce development programs, mentoring programs, job training and placement services, and reentry services are examples of what the Board will develop.  

Starting in July 2023, the Cannabis Equity Business Loan Program and Fund will award low-interest and zero-interest loans to social equity qualified cannabis licensees. The sole purpose is to foster business ownership and economic growth within communities that have been the most disproportionately impacted by marijuana prohibition.

The Public Health Advisory Council, made up of individuals with public health expertise, will advise the Cannabis Control Authority on matters of public health, assessing and monitoring public health issues, trends, and impacts related to marijuana legalization. The Council will make recommendations on retail marijuana products safety, composition, public health awareness, programming, and related resource needs.  

There will also be a Cannabis Oversight Commission, comprised of 10 General Assembly members to provide yet another layer of oversight.

The legislation allows local governments to decide, via referendum, whether or not they will permit retail marijuana stores in their area. These referenda must be held between July 2022 and December 2022.

Forty percent of tax revenue from marijuana sales will go to pre-kindergarten programs for at-risk 3 and 4-year olds, 25 percent to substance abuse programs, and 5 percent to public health programs.
What About the Retail?

It will be some time, and a few more legislative sessions (regular and reconvened) before you’ll see a retail marijuana store in our area. The legislation we passed puts us on a path toward providing economic investment and empowerment opportunities to individuals and communities disproportionately impacted by the failed war on drugs. Through criminal justice reform and a focus on social equity, we have a real opportunity to right those wrongs and move forward. Establishing health and safety measures that ensure access to a safe and well-regulated product and implementing public health programs so individuals understand the potential dangers of misuse are a large part of this process.