Virginia Governor wants to speed up cannabis legalization, medical cannabis license court case lingers

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Bethan Rose Jenkins, Cannabis News Writer/Editorial

Adults residing in the state of Virginia may soon be allowed to possess and cultivate small batches of cannabis starting from July. This is based on the governor’s recently-introduced amendments to a chunk of legislation that was passed earlier in the year. 

Should cannabis legalization in Virginia be accelerated as planned by Gov. Ralph Northam, the landscape could change three years earlier than he – and lawmakers – initially planned.

“Our Commonwealth is committed to legalizing marijuana in an equitable way. Virginia will become the 15th state to legalize cannabis — and these changes will ensure we do it with a focus on public safety, public health, and social justice,” said the Democratic governor in a news release.

Proponents have been anxiously waiting to see the amendments put forward by Northam. The revised bill was cleared by the General Assembly in February and has since been prioritized by the Democrats who are currently steering the state government; Dems say this step is essential to stopping the unjust treatment that people of color have endured as a result of strict cannabis laws. 

Despite progress, lawmakers were unable to come to an agreement in the session and therefore didn’t push forward with the bill’s passing. Prior to Northam’s amendments, cannabis legalization in Virginia wasn’t set to happen until the year 2024.

Numerous lobbying organizations have praised the updated July 1 legalization date. Those groups include American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia Marijuana Justice, Justice Forward Virginia and RISE for Youth. Northam’s amendments to Virginia’s cannabis legalization bill were also praised by the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus.

“This important change to the legislation recently passed by the General Assembly will allow the Commonwealth to begin addressing the tragic consequences of communities of color being over-policed in the failed War on Drugs. Marijuana laws are more harshly enforced in Black and Brown communities, and we cannot risk more people being caught in the system for acting in ways that will soon be legal,” reads a statement from the coalition.

State study prompted Northam’s office to kickstart cannabis legalization

A statement from Northam’s office suggests that the governor’s move to accelerate cannabis legalization in Virginia was spurred on by a 2020 state study that discovered Black Virginians were unfairly treated by police and convicted for consuming cannabis.

“I am grateful to the advocates and legislators for their dedicated work on this important issue, and I look forward to this legislation passing next month,” Northam is quoted as saying to reporters.

Based on his amendments, adults aged 21 and older would be legally allowed to possess a maximum of one ounce (28.3 grams) of cannabis as of July 1. However, those individuals must not have the intent to distribute the drug. Moreover, the amendments to Virginia’s cannabis legalization measure state that each household could grow a maximum of four plants from July 1.

The legislation is not supported by everyone, however, with the bill being opposed by Democratic Sen. Chap Petersen. 

Medical cannabis license battle commences in Virginia

Meanwhile, Illinois-based PharmaCann has embarked on a legal battle regarding a medical hashish enterprise license in Virginia. Although PharmaCann claims that the license is legally theirs, state officers have requested applicants to submit fresh bids.

Arguing against PharmaCann, state regulators say that the company’s license was left unused since Virginia launched its medical cannabis gross sales final year. The plaintiff’s medical cannabis license in Virginia was one of five to be awarded. 

PharmaCann attributes the idleness of its license to a merger that never materialized with MedMen. One year later, Virginia regulators rescinded the license following MedMen’s failure to launch a medical cannabis enterprise on the Staunton website; as required by the allow. Soon after, state regulators decided that a new applicant would be awarded with the fifth medical cannabis license no later than March 2021. 

The case is still pending.