Virginia’s dedication to cannabis reform in 2020 is one of the most fascinating and encouraging cannabis stories in the region. The approval of decriminalization of up to an ounce and the establishment of a proper medicinal cannabis program nearly catches Virginia up to Maryland which began its own similar changes six years earlier. There are still hiccups of course. As The Outlaw Report observed last week, law enforcement is holding onto its drug warrior mentality for as long as it can and Virginia governor Ralph Northam offered up an amendment for a study of cannabis legalization for adult use to begin in 2021. The Virginia legislature pushed back, demanding the report begin later this year.
In Maryland, cannabis reform has moved slowly: Decriminalization of up to an ounce (an increase from the 2014 decriminalization threshold of 10 grams) was approved by the House but stalled when the legislative session ended early this year because of COVID-19; legalization for recreational adult use no longer seems imminent let alone urgent; and big picture concerns regarding racial equity in medicinal cannabis remain unresolved (the long term effects of the Cheryl Glenn scandal loom).
Then last week, Maryland governor Larry Hogan vetoed a bill that would have shielded past cannabis convictions from potential employers.
The medicinal cannabis program in Virginia also keeps expanding. The state which was operating under “affirmative defense” and began as CBD-focused program for only the most worse-off and challenged patients is now a medicinal cannabis program proper. Now, due to Senate Bill 976 which allows “up to five permits for cannabis dispensing facilities per health service area,” the number of dispensaries has been expanded from five to nearly 30.
Previously, there was a plan for dispensaries in the cities of Bristol, Manassas, Portsmouth, Richmond, and Staunton—and again, back then they were to be limited to providing CBD and THC oils only. Virginia’s population is 8.5 million. In contrast, Maryland, with a population of a little over six million people is nearing 100 dispensaries.
Back in April, financial news website Benzinga reached out to Jim Cacioppo, the chairman and CEO of Florida cannabis company Jushi, who through Dalitso were approved to grow, process and sell cannabis in five dispensaries in Virginia.
“This legislation provides us the opportunity to improve patient access to medical cannabis products through six locations in Northern Virginia. We also applaud Governor Northam and the Virginia General Assembly for removing the percentage-based cap on THC in cannabis oil, which will expand our product categories and foster more effective dosing for patients.”
The legislation which is awaiting Governor Ralph Northam’s approval would allow the five processors to each open five dispensaries—a workaround for the Virginia rule which says that approved dispensaries must also be the place where the cannabis is grown and processed.
Meanwhile, Richmond’s City Council is already considering some of the nuances of having a medicinal cannabis program—and presumably soon after that, legalization for recreational adult use—by suggesting that city employees no longer be randomly drug tested for cannabis and that cannabis not be part of pre-employment drug tests.
Lynch has cited Virginia’s decriminalization of up to one ounce of cannabis as the reason. The exceptions to this would be those who must be tested because of federal regulations (because cannabis remains a Schedule I drug and is federally illegal) regarding commercial drivers and others where there are safety concerns tied to impairment. Virginia Public Media quoted Lynch at City Council regarding the bill.
“As a forward-looking and progressive city, we need to adapt and change with the times, as policy has,” Lynch said. “In an environment where we are in such shortage of good employees, in my mind, it doesn’t make sense to be terminating folks just for failing a marijuana test.”
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