Gov. Ralph Northam of Virginia recently approved a number of bills regarding the state’s medical marijuana program. The new laws will rectify issues many reform advocates have highlighted with Virginia’s strict medical marijuana program.
Senate Bill 2 and House Bill 972 will decriminalize marijuana possession offenses. Northam also suggested technical amendments, which must be approved by the legislature before taking effect on July 1, 2020.
Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring says the state will become “a more fair, just, and equal place” now that simple possession of marijuana has been decriminalized. Herring has promoted full legalization, but a measure to legalize marijuana failed to garner enough support in the state legislature earlier this year.
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.
Under this decriminalization law, possessing up to one ounce of cannabis would be punishable by a $25 fine with no threat of jail time and no criminal record. The new law also seals the criminal records of past marijuana offenders from employers and school administrators. Sixteen other states, now including Virginia, have decriminalized marijuana in the United States.
Though advocates are pushing for broader reform, many view this development as a necessary step that could set the stage for cannabis legalization to pass sometime over the next few legislative sessions. A provision that allows for the creation of a work group to study the impact of cannabis legalization was included in the bill as well.
Northam also approved Senate Bill 1015, which will protect patients against prosecution for participating in the state’s medical cannabis program. The bill will eliminate jail time for simple marijuana possession, leaving a civil penalty with a fine in place.
Additionally, Northam also approved Senate Bill 976, which will expand and improve the state’s medical program, adding a new license for cannabis dispensing facilities. The bill amends the state’s current licensing structure for medical cannabis businesses.
Until now, the state’s program had only one, vertically-integrated license known as a pharmaceutical processor license that permitted the cultivation, processing, and dispensing of medical cannabidiol to registered patients.
In 2018, the state licensed five pharmaceutical processors to service the program, but while some have begun cultivating, none of the processors have yet began dispensing product to patients. This makes the timing of this bill ideal for the state’s program.
The latest law created an additional license for cannabis dispensing, which allows for the dispensing of cannabis products to registered patients. The formerly comprehensive pharmaceutical processor license is now only permitted to cultivate and process cannabidiol.
The bill also outlines that testing requirements will be established to ensure the safety of medical cannabidiol products before they are sold.
The Board of Pharmacy within The Virginia Department of Health Professions is responsible for developing new regulations, which will establish a non-refundable application fee and initial permit fee. To obtain a dispensing facility license, the applying entity must be owned, at least in part, by an existing pharmaceutical processor.
Applications for dispensing facilities are anticipated to become available in the coming months. To begin preparing for marijuana business opportunities in Virginia, our Marijuana Business Starter Package includes everything you need to get started.
The package includes an informational overview of state specific marijuana laws and program, our Marijuana Business Application Guide & Checklist, Marijuana Business Plan Template and our Marijuana Dispensary and Cultivation Financial Plan Template.