How Virginia’s Cannabis Industry Changed in 2019


This article is part of a three-part series that summarizes notable moments in cannabis from 2019 for Maryland, Washington, D.C., and Virginia.

Support For Legalization Becoming More Common in the Commonwealth

A survey published in September 2019 shows that an increasing number of those who live in the state of Virginia are supportive of cannabis legalization. 

The survey was conducted by Research America, Inc. for the University of Mary Washington (UMW) with a margin of 61 percent in favor and 34 percent opposed. A UMW survey hosted two years earlier reported that 39 percent of respondents favored legalization of pot for personal use, 41 percent supported the legal use of medical cannabis, and 17 percent believed cannabis should be illegal. 

The 2019 survey obtained interviews from 1,009 Virginians, ages 18 or older, with data that has a margin of error of 3.1 percentage points.

The Rise of the Cannabis Caucus

The Virginia General Assembly has a new caucus focused on cannabis reform. The Cannabis Caucus explored approaches to eliminating criminal penalties for cannabis possession at an all-day, cannabis-focused summit convened by Attorney General Mark R. Herring in December 2019. 

At the summit, Herring said, “I don’t believe our current system of criminalizing possession of cannabis is working at all. It is needlessly burdening Virginians with convictions and criminalizing them. The human and social costs of this are enormous, in addition to the millions of dollars it is costing Virginia taxpayers. And the burden of this system is falling disproportionately on African Americans and people of color.”

Sen. David W. Marsden, co-chair of the Cannabis Caucus, is opposed to legalizing cannabis for recreational use, saying at the summit, “What we have to be careful of . . . is that people drift away from ‘this is medicine’ to ‘this is a recreational drug,’ and we end up with people treating themselves and . . . just run down to find something that will get them high.” 

Del. Stephen E. Heretick, Cannabis Caucus co-chair, said that he will introduce legislation to establish a regulatory scheme for cannabis growers, manufacturers, and retailers. Heretick told The Washington Post that his goal is to legalize cannabis within five years.

School Health

With Gov. Ralph Northam’s approval in mid-2019, Virginia became the fourth state to allow medical cannabis in schools. Del. Chris L. Hurst’s bill, HB 1720, permits school nurses and those employed by a local health department or a local school board to possess and distribute cannabidiol oil or THC-A oil to students. School boards will also be prohibited from suspending or expelling students who possess or use medical cannabis oils on school property, school buses, or at school-sponsored activities if they are registered patients with written certification.

Jenn Michelle Pedini, executive director of Virginia NORML, described the move in an interview with The Outlaw Report as “surprising and progressive.”

Decriminalization Under Review

Sen. Adam Ebbin introduced a bill in November 2019 for the 2020 session to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of cannabis. The legislation hopes to downgrade the offense of possession of up to one ounce of cannabis to a maximum $50 civil penalty. 

The current punishment for simple possession can result in a $500 fine and 30 days in jail. On January 23, 2020, Marijuana Moment reported that the Senate Judiciary Criminal Law Subcommittee passed the legislation in a voice vote after removing its expungements language. 

It’s worth noting that cannabis arrests in Virginia hit their highest levels in at least 20 years in 2018 with nearly 29,000 arrests, according to The Washington Post. Head to Virginia Mercury for an interactive map of where the majority of these arrests occurred in the state.

Photo via Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury


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