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Virginia Reforms Cannabis Laws and Opens New Licensing Opportunity

by Sarah Cawthon October 29, 2020

While Virginia governor Ralph Northam signed multiple cannabis reform bills into law earlier this year, lawmakers are already expanding on the policies with additional cannabis reform bills. The bills are aimed to rectify issues many reform advocates have highlighted with Virginia’s strict medical cannabis program.

Last month, the House and Senate approved final versions of legislation that prohibit law enforcement from stopping, searching or seizing any person, place or thing solely on the basis of the odor of cannabis.

The governor has also been sent a bill that, under the new decriminalization law, would give people who are issued a summons for cannabis possession the option of prepaying the civil penalty rather than going to court.

The decriminalization bill that was passed earlier this year also contained a provision that required a working group be established to study and craft recommendations regarding adult-use cannabis legalization. The panel has since met several times and plans to deliver their report to the legislature by the end of November.

Additionally, the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Committee has been conducting its own analysis regarding ending cannabis prohibition in the state and will report their findings before the end of the year.

While many lawmakers plan to incorporate the findings from these reports into a legalization bill in 2021, the Virginia Black Caucus is demanding an expedited process asking lawmakers to approve the broad reform during the special session in January.  

In addition to the newly enacted decriminalization laws, Gov. Northam and lawmakers also expanded the state’s limited medical cannabis program during this year’s regular legislative session. Senate Bill 976, which expands and improves the state’s medical program, created a separate 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. The formerly comprehensive pharmaceutical processor license is now only permitted to cultivate and process cannabidiol, and a separate license for cannabis dispensing facilities has been created.

To obtain a dispensing facility license, the applying entity must be owned, at least in part, by an existing pharmaceutical processor.

In 2018, the state licensed five pharmaceutical processors to service the program, only one of the processors have begun dispensing product to patients. This makes the timing of this bill ideal for the state’s program.

On September 25, 2020, the Board of Pharmacy issued a Request for Applications to award a Pharmaceutical Processor and Dispensing Facility License in Health Service Area 1. Applicants will need to submit their joint application – one for the pharmaceutical processor license and one for the dispensing license – by December 4, 2020.

If you’re interested in applying for these licenses and joining Virginia’s expanding market, our Virginia Marijuana Business Plan Template includes templates for many of the plans required to be submitted with the application.