Virginia Decriminalized Cannabis, Now it Considers Legalization and Begins its Medicinal Program

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In July, Virginia officially decriminalized cannabis possession of up to one ounce, a positive for cannabis reform and a benefit to the many residents of Virginia who are now a bit less apt to get jammed up in the system for using and possessing cannabis. Leading up to decriminalization, arrests for cannabis were actually increasing and as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) revealed earlier this year, over the past decade, a Black Virginian was 3.4 times more likely to be arrested for cannabis possession than a white person. 

Legalization meanwhile, remains up for debate. Virginia governor Ralph Northam campaigned on decriminalization and connected it to racial equity, but he has been less vocal about legalization. Last week, Richmond, VA mayor Levar Stoney wrote a letter to Northam, House Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn and Senate Majority Leader Richard Saslaw, requesting the General Assembly special session that begins on Tuesday, August 18 address cannabis legalization, connecting it to “increasing equity and inclusion.” 

The letter’s first point demands Virginia, “legalize marijuana, establish an excise tax system for recreational use, and utilize that revenue to provide needed funds for Virginia’s at-risk add-on,” which is a program providing more money to low-income students. Stoney mentions how cannabis arrests “comprise a majority of the total arrests in Virginia” and that those arrests are disproportionately Black. According to the ACLU, 52% of the drug arrests in Virginia are for cannabis. In June, Virginia’s Black Legislative Caucus demanded a special legislative session to consider cannabis legalization as well.

“Virginia NORML applauds Mayor Stoney for calling for the legalization and regulation of marijuana, and for the automatic expungement of past offenses. The majority of Virginians agree with the mayor that the responsible use of cannabis by adults ought to be legal,” Jenn Michelle Pedini the executive director of Virginia NORML said in a statement.

Next up is Virginia’s medicinal cannabis program, which was approved in 2017 but is only now beginning to be operational. As Virginia public radio station WVTF reported last week, Virginia’s medicinal cannabis program has 3,800 registered patients whose ailments qualify. Of the four dispensaries approved in Virginia, one of them, Dharma Pharmaceuticals in Bristol, VA could open by the end of this month.

Meanwhile, as The Outlaw Report reported in June, a fifth dispensary in Staunton, VA (the others are in Bristol, Manassas, Portsmouth, and Richmond) run by the infamous MedMen will not open because MedMen’s license was rescinded. Later in the year, Virginia will look for new applicants for MedMen’s license expanding the number of approved dispensaries back to five. By that time however, Dharma Pharmaceuticals will likely have moved to Abingdon, VA because soon there will be a vote on placing a casino where Dharma Pharmaceuticals is currently located.

According to Marijuana Business Daily, projections for medicinal cannabis sales will be between $9 million and $11 million in 2021—the first full year the program will be operational—and will by 2024 be somewhere between $45 million and $55 million.

Image by Lukasz Stefanski / via Shutterstock

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