The Virginia Cannabis Bills in Play in 2021

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A cannabis legalization bill introduced by Governor Northam and top state Democrats is moving through the statehouse, along with a handful of other proposed cannabis bills in the 2021 Virginia General Assembly Session. The legislation deals with a wide range of topics including cannabis oil processing, taxing the new market, and record expungement.

Northam’s recent budget proposal set aside $25 million “to support legislation related to expungements of criminal records, including but not limited to automatic expungement of misdemeanor marijuana records.” The legalization bill he is backing in 2021 calls for expungement of some past cannabis convictions.

The bills corresponding to Northam’s proposal are SB 1406 and HB 2312. The Governor’s supporting partners for this proposal are Senate President Pro Tempore Louise Lucas (D), Sen. Adam Ebbin (D), and, in the House, Majority Leader Charniele Herring (D) and Del. Don Scott (D). They seek to eliminate “criminal penalties for possession of marijuana for persons who are 21 years of age or older,” establish some new cannabis penalties, and recommend processes for licensing, social equity provisions, expungement, taxes, regulation and more during the next two years.

The House bill has been “presented and ordered printed,” while the Senate bill is moving pretty quickly. On Jan. 13, it was referred to the Committee on Rehabilitation and Social Services, and, on the 18th, it was assigned to the Rehabilitation and Social Services Sub-Committee on Marijuana. This subcommittee discussed the bill on the 19th and 20th, and suggested several changes, including the creation of a separate regulatory agency (rather than the Virginia ABC) to run the cannabis program. This move would likely delay the launch of the legal market but not the expungement process. The amended bill was returned to the full Rehabilitation and Social Services Committee for a vote.

On Friday the 22nd, the Senate bill passed the Rehabilitation and Social Services Committee and moved on to the Judiciary committee. It will also have to pass the Finance Committee before advancing to the Senate floor.

A separate legalization bill, HB 1815, was introduced Jan. 6 by Del. Steve Heretick (D) and is still in the “Committee Referral Pending” stage. The companion Senate bill from Joe Morrisey (D) was incorporated into the Senate version of Northam’s legalization plan.

The bills HB 2113 and SB 1283 also relate to automatic expungement of criminal records. They are largely similar, but not identical. The House bill was referred to the Committee for Courts of Justice on the 12th, and the Senate bill was referred to Committee on the Judiciary on the 11th.

HB 1862 relates to employee rights and the medicinal use of cannabis oil. It would protect employees who practice “lawful use of cannabis oil pursuant to a valid written certification issued by a practitioner” in some cases, and the employers in others. It was assigned to the Labor and Commerce Sub-Committee No.1.

HB 2218 and SB 1333 are companion bills that deal with the pharmaceutical processors of cannabis products. They would allow processors to make and sell products other than cannabis oil, and establish related testing, regulations and fees. The House bill was assigned to the Health, Welfare and Institutions Sub-Committee on Health Professions, and the Senate bill was referred to the Committee on Education and Health.

HB 1988 seeks to create new standards for cannabis oil processing and distribution. It directs the Board of Pharmacy “to promulgate regulations implementing the provisions of the bill,” among other responsibilities. It has been assigned to the Health, Welfare and Institutions Sub-Committee on Health Professions.

Photo illustration by Kathy Wyche

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