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Virginia Governor Signs Marijuana Reform Bill As State’s First Medical Dispensary Prepares To Open



The governor of Virginia signed a modest marijuana reform bill into law this week, a move that comes days before the state’s first medical cannabis dispensary is set to open.

Gov. Ralph Northam (D), who approved legislation to decriminalize low-level marijuana possession earlier this year, put his signature on a bill that will allow people issued summonses for the offense to prepay their civil penalty rather than having show up in court.

The bill is one of several dealing with cannabis reform that have advanced in the Commonwealth during a special session. For example, Northam has until October 21 to act on separate legislation that’s also on his desk that would make it so police could not “stop, search, or seize any person, place, or thing solely on the basis of the odor of marijuana.”

Bills to facilitate the expungement of prior convictions, including for cannabis and other drugs, were also passed by lawmakers and have been sent to a bicameral conference committee, where House and Senate members have been appointed to negotiate and resolve differences between the chambers’ competing proposals.

Under the House measure, eligible convictions would be automatically expunged after a period of eight years. The Senate’s version, meanwhile, would allow people to petition to have their records cleared after a period of five years. The House bill covers more drug crimes, as well.

During the state’s regular legislative session earlier this year, the governor and legislators also expanded Virginia’s limited medical cannabis program.

And on that note, the first licensed medical marijuana dispensary, Dharma Pharmaceuticals, will be having its grand opening on Saturday, where activists with Virginia NORML will join in the celebration.

Because of a regulatory change to Virginia’s program that broadened the definition of what products cannabis patients can lawfully possess, organizations like NORML and the Marijuana Policy Project now consider the state to be the 34th in the U.S. to meet its definition for having an effective medical marijuana system.

All of these incremental changes come as legislators continue to pursue a broader adult-use legalization plan in the Commonwealth that would include a system of regulated and taxed sales and production.

The decriminalization bill that passed earlier this year contained a provision that called for the establishment of a working group to study and make recommendations about adult-use marijuana legalization. That panel is expected to issue its report to the legislature at the end of November.

Meanwhile, the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Committee is doing its own analysis on ending cannabis prohibition and will similarly report on its findings before the end of the year.

A bill to legalize marijuana was filed for the special session by a delegate running to replace the term-limited Northam in 2021, but it has yet to advance out of the committee to which it was referred.

The governor hasn’t expressed any particular interested in enacting the broader reform before he leaves office, but he is publicly embracing the state’s existing hemp and CBD industry.

On Thursday, Northam participated in a ribbon cutting ceremony at a major CBD extraction business in the state.

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