The governor of Virginia and top lawmakers unveiled a bill on Wednesday that would legalize marijuana in the Commonwealth—and all signs indicate that legislators plan to move quickly to advance it.
The proposal would allow adults 21 and older to purchase and possess up to one ounce of cannabis and cultivate up to four plants for personal use, two of which could be mature.
It’s being jointly carried by Sen. Adam Ebbin (D) and Senate President Pro Tempore Louise Lucas (D) in their chamber. In the House of Delegates, Majority Leader Charniele Herring (D) and Del. Don Scott (D) will carry the companion version.
The legislature decriminalized simple marijuana possession last year, but advocates have kept their eyes set on broader reform.
“We know that the prohibition on cannabis has failed in Virginia, in the Commonwealth and in the country,” Ebbin told Marijuana Moment in a phone interview. “It’s important that we have equity in mind as we legalize marijuana and that’s what we’re up for.”
An initial hearing on the legislation is expected to be held in the Senate Rehabilitation and Social Services on Friday, after which point it will be put before a new subcommittee that’s being created to specifically focus on cannabis legalization.
The bill’s provisions have been informed by two official state studies on legalization that were recently conducted by a legislative commission and a separate working group comprised of four Virginia cabinet secretaries and other officials, both of which looked at how to effectively implement legalization and submitted recommendations to Gov. Ralph Northam’s (D) office late last year.
Many of those recommendations have been incorporated into the new legislation, including provisions to promote social equity in the cannabis market. Notably, it would also apportion almost half of the tax revenue the state collects from marijuana sales to funding pre-kindergarten education—a policy championed by First Lady Pamela Northam.
Here are the main components of the new Virginia marijuana legalization bill:
-A new 21 percent tax would be imposed on cannabis sales, and local jurisdictions that allow marijuana businesses to operate could levy an additional three percent tax. Existing state sales taxes would also apply on purchases, for a total potential 30 percent tax rate.
-Revenue from the new state tax would go toward funding pre-k education (40 percent), a Cannabis Equity Reinvestment Fund (30 percent), substance misuse and treatment programs (25 percent) and public health initiatives (five percent).
-Possession of up to one ounce would be lawful for adults. It would make possession of more than one ounce but up to five pounds of marijuana a civil penalty punishable by a $25 fine.
-Local municipalities would have to proactively opt-in to allow cannabis businesses to operate in their area. That could be done through an action of a local city council or via a ballot measure initiated by voters.
-The state’s alcohol regulatory body would be renamed the Virginia Alcoholic Beverage and Cannabis Control Authority, and it would be responsible for promulgating rules and issuing licenses.
-There would be five main licensing categories: cultivation, manufacturing, testing, wholesaler and retail. People could hold licenses from multiple categories in some cases, though there are some exceptions.
-People with prior marijuana convictions would have their records automatically expunged, and those currently serving sentences for cannabis-related offenses could petition for a resentencing hearing.
-To promote social equity for communities most impacted by the drug war, the bill would create a Cannabis Equity Reinvestment Board, Cannabis Equity Reinvestment Fund and Virginia Cannabis Equity Business Loan Fund. Those identified as social equity applicants would be eligible for low- or no-interest loans for their businesses.
-Beyond the main regulatory body, the bill would also establish two advisory boards: the Cannabis Control Advisory Board and Cannabis Public Health Advisory Council.
-The legislation contains provisions to allow smokeable hemp and establish hemp testing lab licenses.
-Regulations for the marijuana market would have to be promulgated by July 1, 2022. Retail cannabis sales could not start until January 1, 2023.
-That the secretaries of agriculture and forestry, health and human resources and public safety and homeland security would be directed to form a work group with the aim of collecting data on “the use and misuse of marijuana in order to determine appropriate policies and programs to promote public health and safety.” They would have to issue a report and recommendations by November 1, 2021.
Ebbin said that when it comes to equity, “we need three things.”
“That includes expungement of past marijuana related convictions,” he said. “It means promoting diverse participation in the industry in terms of ownership and employment, and ensuring that profits are returned directly to the communities most harmed by the marijuana prohibition.”
A summary of the legislation from Northam’s administration lists five priorities for the reform. Chief among them is social, racial and economic equality.
“Marijuana prohibition has historically been based in discrimination, and the impact of criminalization laws have disproportionately harmed minority and low-income communities as result,” it states, adding that the legalization legislation will “focus on undoing these harms.”
The governor’s summary also talks about prioritizing public health, youth prevention, air quality and data collection.
Advocates celebrated the bill’s introduction and are optimistic about the prospects of getting the reform enacted this session, but they also feel the legislation as proposed can be improved upon.
“While the administration’s proposal does a good job at centering equity in a new adult-use marketplace, it falls short on a number of priorities for Virginians,” Jenn Michelle Pedini, executive director of Virginia NORML, told Marijuana Moment. “The low legal possession amount, limited personal cultivation, protracted implementation date, and new crimes established by the legislation are problematic and should immediately be addressed by the patrons.”
“Virginians have been very clear in their priorities for adult-use legalization efforts,” Pedini, who also serves as NORML’s national development director, said. “We’ll continue working with the legislature to make sure Virginia gets it right.”
Marijuana Moment is already tracking more than 200 cannabis, psychedelics and drug policy bills in state legislatures and Congress this year. Patreon supporters pledging at least $25/month get access to our interactive maps, charts and hearing calendar so they don’t miss any developments.
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One problematic provision from advocates’ perspective is that the bill would make public consumption a misdemeanor, whereas currently it is a civil offense punishable by a $25 fine.
Additionally, it seems to increase the fine for people aged 18-20 who possess cannabis. The fine would be $250 for a first offense, and the legislation also stipulates that underage people could be subject to mandatory substance misuse treatment for violating the law.
This development comes one month after the governor included provisions to lay the groundwork for cannabis legalization in a budget proposal that also calls for millions of dollars to support expungements. Northam had campaigned on merely decriminalizing possession, but he publicly backed broader legalization of marijuana for adult use in November.
“Marijuana prohibition has historically been disproportionately impacting and discriminating against people of color,” Ebbin and Lucas said in a joint statement attached to the Senate agenda. “In 2021, we will be presenting an equitable, forward-thinking bill to develop a regulated, adult-use market for cannabis which will reform our criminal justice system and begin the long process of undoing the harms of prohibition.”
“This bill will expunge the records of those arrested for marijuana possession, promote diverse participation in the new industry, and dedicate a portion of revenues to providing pre-K education to at-risk children,” they said.
The Virginia Legislative Black Caucus also endorsed the legalization bill Wednesday morning.
The Virginia Legislative Black Caucus also endorsed the legalization bill Wednesday morning.
Proud to work with the @VaBlackCaucus to equitably legalize marijuana in Virginia. Among other measures, this bill expunges prior marijuana convictions, reinvests money in over-policed communities, and promotes diverse ownership in the industry.https://t.co/AEjoT2JxWF
— Ralph Northam (@GovernorVA) January 13, 2021
Separate legislation to legalize cannabis for adult use was filed by Del. Steve Heretick (D) last week.
Both the House of Delegates and Senate passed separate expungements bills during a special session last year, but negotiators failed to work out a deal on a unified approach.
Meanwhile, legislation to stop police from searching people or seizing property based solely on the smell of marijuana in Virginia is set to take effect after lawmakers adopted recommended changes from the governor in October.
Also during the recently concluded special session, Northam signed another bill that will allow people issued summonses for cannabis offenses under the state’s new decriminalization law to prepay their civil penalty rather than having show up in court.
Read a summary and full text of the new Virginia marijuana legalization bill below:
Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.
Psychedelics Group Issues First Round Of Grants For Community-Based Entheogenic Education In DC
A Washington, D.C.-based psychedelics organization has issued about $50,000 in its first round of grants for various community groups to support efforts to educate and organize people around plant medicine.
The Plant Medicine Coalition (PMC)—founded by the head of the D.C. campaign that got psychedelics decriminalization passed locally in last November’s election—dolled out grants to about a dozen groups as part of its Community Grants Program. Funding for the grants was provided by Dr. Bronner’s, a wellness company that’s been involved in a number of marijuana and psychedelics reform efforts across the country.
This is just one part of PMC’s mission to promote psychedelics reform as the movement continues to spread at the local, state and federal levels.
Arts collectives, mental health organizations and entheogenic education groups are among the new grant recipients.
Melissa Lavasani, PMC co-founder, told Marijuana Moment that the organization is hopeful about the impact of these grants—but it’s also using this opportunity to explore how to most effectively provide funding in the years to come.
“I wanted to do something really impactful that had a quick turnaround,” Lavasani said. “There are a lot of things that our organization is working on right now that are really long term, especially on the federal level.”
“We’re trying to shift a really entrenched culture and government,” she added. “It just takes a lot of grinding—meeting after meeting—and I wanted to do something important with these funds here locally because I do feel like there were a lot of loose ends” after D.C. decriminalized psychedelics.
Overall, the money from PMC will support a diversity of initiatives. There will be workshops on community building within the psychedelics movement, courses on cultivating entheogenic substances, lecture series on scientific developments related to the substances and more.
Here are some quotes from recipients on what they aim to do with the funding:
The Madison House: “Founded by Master Life Coach H. Alejaibra Badu, The Madison House is a International Spiritual Health & Wellness Movement that stands to heal people from things that bind them mentally and emotionally. Finding freedom from the self-inflicted prison of the mind when it’s over consumed by thought. Freeing yourself from the voice inside your mind that promotes fear, self-doubt, low self-esteem, anxiety, stress, anger, and pain. Freeing yourself from the perceptions of others that leave you in bondage. Freeing your whole self and authentic being. The Madison House belief is that if you are able to be freed from the things that bind you mentally and emotionally, then you can live your life on purpose.”
Delicious Mushroom Growing: “Delicious Mushroom Growing is a project that educates DC residents about how to grow mushrooms from manure and compost substrates – Oyster, Cremini/Portabello/Button/Agaricus, and Shaggy Mane. It’s a way to teach people about how to grow fungi medicine and get themselves on a the path towards healing.”
Plant Medicine Lecture Series: “This lecture series will bring exciting speakers to D.C. to discuss the scientific, medical, and social aspects of psychedelics. The lectures will be offered in public venues, COVID permitting, and webcast as well. The events will also be excellent opportunities to meet other people in D.C. who are interested in psychedelics.”
There are additional recipients who requested not to be publicly listed but are providing “critical education of the community, integration services, as well as providing stewardship of ethical plant medicine community building,” Lavasani said.
Others are involved in “addressing abuse and predatory behaviors in plant medicine circles (a problem that’s become super prevalent lately) to provide a restorative process for healing,” she said.
While based in D.C., PMC is a national organization that hopes to build upon reform efforts that have already been accomplished and bring the issue to Capitol Hill, in part by pushing lawmakers to approve federal funding for research into the therapeutic potential of substances like psilocybin mushrooms and ayahuasca.
The group is also working to ensure the effective implementation of the city-level policy change while supporting other local activists as they push to change laws governing natural or synthetic psychedelics.
Both inside and outside of the nation’s capitol, activists are hard at work pushing for psychedelics reform.
Just last week, for example, lawmakers in a fourth Massachusetts city voted in favor of a resolution urging the decriminalization of certain entheogenic substances and other drugs.
The action comes months after the neighboring Northampton City Council passed a resolution stipulating that no government or police funds should be used to enforce laws criminalizing people for using or possessing entheogenic plants and fungi. Elsewhere in Massachusetts, Somerville and Cambridge have also moved to effectively decriminalize psychedelics.
The local measures also express support for two bills introduced in the Massachusetts state legislature this year. One would remove criminal penalties for possession of all currently illicit drugs and the other would establish a task force to study entheogenic substances with the eventual goal of legalizing and regulating the them.
Separately, Seattle’s City Council approved a resolution earlier this month to decriminalize noncommercial activity around a wide range of psychedelic substances, including the cultivation and sharing of psilocybin mushrooms, ayahuasca, ibogaine and non-peyote-derived mescaline.
In Michigan, the Grand Rapids City Council approved a resolution last month calling for decriminalization of a wide range of psychedelics.
Elsewhere in Michigan, the Ann Arbor City Council has already elected to make enforcement of laws prohibition psychedelics like psilocybin, ayahuasca and DMT among the city’s lowest priorities—and lawmakers recently followed up by declaring September Entheogenic Plants and Fungi Awareness Month.
After Ann Arbor legislators passed that decriminalization resolution last year, the Washtenaw County prosecutor announced that his office will not be pursuing charges over possessing entheogenic plants and fungi, “regardless of the amount at issue.”
A local proposal to decriminalize various psychedelics will also appear on Detroit’s November ballot.
At the same time that local activists are pursuing decriminalization, a pair of Michigan senators introduced a bill last month to legalize the possession, cultivation and delivery of an array of plant- and fungi-derived psychedelics like psilocybin and mescaline.
Marijuana Moment is already tracking more than 1,200 cannabis, psychedelics and drug policy bills in state legislatures and Congress this year. Patreon supporters pledging at least $25/month get access to our interactive maps, charts and hearing calendar so they don’t miss any developments.
Learn more about our marijuana bill tracker and become a supporter on Patreon to get access.
A bill to legalize psychedelics in California advanced through the Senate and two Assembly committees this year before being pulled by the sponsor to buy more time to generate support among lawmakers. The plan is to take up the reform during next year’s second half of the legislative session, and the senator behind the measure says he’s confident it will pass.
California activists were separately cleared to begin collecting signatures for a historic initiative to legalize psilocybin mushrooms in the state. Oakland and Santa Cruz have already enacted psychedelics decriminalization.
The top Democrat in the Florida Senate filed a bill last month that would require the state to research the medical benefits of psychedelics such as psilocybin and MDMA.
Earlier this year, Texas enacted a law directing state officials to study psychedelics’ medical value.
The governor of Connecticut signed a bill in June that includes language requiring the state to carry out a study into the therapeutic potential of psilocybin mushrooms.
Oregon voters passed a pair of initiatives last November to legalize psilocybin therapy and decriminalize possession of all drugs. On the local level, activists in Portland are mounting a push to have local lawmakers pass a resolution decriminalizing the cultivation, gifting and ceremonial use of a wide range of psychedelics.
A New York lawmaker introduced a bill in June that would require the state to establish an institute to similarly research the medical value of psychedelics.
In Oakland, the first city where a city council voted to broadly deprioritize criminalization of entheogenic substances, lawmakers approved a follow-up resolution in December that calls for the policy change to be adopted statewide and for local jurisdictions to be allowed to permit healing ceremonies where people could use psychedelics. Activists in the city are also hoping to expand upon the local decriminalization ordinance by creating a community-based model through which people could legally purchase entheogenic substances from local producers.
Meanwhile, Denver activists who successfully led the 2019 campaign to make the city the first in the U.S. to decriminalize psilocybin possession have set their eyes on broader reform, with plans in the works to end the criminalization of noncommercial gifting and communal use of the psychedelic.
In a setback for advocates, the U.S. House of Representatives recently voted against a proposal from Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) that would have removed a spending bill rider that advocates say has restricted federal funds for research into Schedule I drugs, including psychedelics such as psilocybin, MDMA and ibogaine. However, it picked up considerably more votes this round than when the congresswoman first introduced it in 2019.
Report provisions of separate, House-passed spending legislation also touch on the need to expand cannabis and psychedelics research. The panel urged NIDA to support expanded marijuana studies, for example. It further says that federal health agencies should pursue research into the therapeutic potential of psychedelics for military veterans suffering from a host of mental health conditions.
There was an attempt by a Republican congressman to attach language into a defense spending bill that would promote research into psychedelics therapy for active duty military members, but it was not made in order in the House Rules Committee last month.
NIDA also recently announced it’s funding a study into whether psilocybin can help people quit smoking cigarettes.
An official with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs also said at a recent congressional hearing that the agency is “very closely” following research into the potential therapeutic benefits of psychedelics like MDMA for military veterans.
For what it’s worth, Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), a longstanding champion of marijuana reform in Congress, said this month that he intends to help bring the psychedelics reform movement to Capitol Hill “this year.”
In May, lawmakers in Congress filed the first-ever legislation to federally decriminalize possession of illicit substances.
Feds Must Legalize Marijuana, Top Nevada Lawmaker Says (Op-Ed)
“In Nevada, we’ve shown that it is possible to create an equitable and business friendly framework that benefits both cannabis business owners and consumers. With federal action, we can take this work to the next level.”
By Rep. Steve Yeager for Nevada Current
With gridlock at the federal level, states have truly become the laboratories of democracy—often leading on legislative policy when Congress is unable. When it comes to cannabis, these laboratories of democracy operate at breakneck speed, with 18 U.S. states legalizing it for both medical and adult “recreational” use and at least some legal use in 37 states and the District of Columbia. In a nation where even a small amount of the substance could and often did (and sometimes still does) lead to serious legal consequences, more than 100 million Americans now live in states with legalized, adult-use cannabis markets.
Nevada, of course, has been a trailblazer in legalizing cannabis and as a result, has reaped significant economic and social benefits. When the Legislature established the Cannabis Compliance Board in 2019 with a strong bipartisan majority, Nevada solidified its place as the gold standard for a well-regulated cannabis industry.
In 2021, the Legislature once again demonstrated its ability to create a more equitable and inclusive cannabis industry, securing a bipartisan 2/3 vote in each legislative chamber to pass a bill establishing cannabis consumption lounges. The lounges, set to open in 2022, will bring new jobs and enhanced tax revenue that will allow Nevada to invest more in K-12 education. In addition, Nevada’s tens of millions of tourists will finally have a place to legally consume cannabis. It is clear that Las Vegas is quickly becoming a global cannabis destination.
But despite these immense possibilities, state legalization—without change in federal law—still presents serious challenges. For instance, the lack of contemporary cannabis legislation on the federal level has made any form of traditional banking for the industry next to impossible. Cannabis business owners cannot take advantage of favorable tax provisions that help other businesses keep more of the money they make, often leading to additional investment. Even if cannabis is legal in a particular state, carrying that cannabis on to federal property or on to an airplane opens a person to arrest and prosecution by federal authorities.
Furthermore, federal employees or state employees paid through federal funding cannot partake in cannabis, medical or otherwise. Nevadans who live in federally subsidized housing cannot consume in the comfort of their homes, a prohibition that undoubtedly disproportionately impacts vulnerable communities. And business owners in the industry can never feel completely comfortable because the federal government could choose to use its police power to crack down on state level cannabis businesses.
With polls showing that two-thirds of Americans support legalization of cannabis, it is time for the federal government to legalize it. Such action will pave the way for states that have been hesitant to step out on this issue and will eliminate the current conflicts between federal and state law. Federal legalization will enable more in-depth study of cannabis by both state and federal agencies to develop a scientific standard of impairment for driving and will enable the federal government to help states with efforts to curb youth cannabis use.
Nevada has also led the way in pardoning and sealing criminal records for those convicted of low-level cannabis crimes. Those with federal cannabis convictions have no similar remedy, often preventing them from entering the job market at a time when employees have never been in higher demand. Federal cannabis legalization would open the door to cleaning the slate for criminal convictions stemming from conduct the majority of Americans now agree should not have been illegal in the first place. For both moral and economic reasons, erasing records of low level cannabis convictions is simply the right thing to do. For that to happen, cannabis must be legalized on the federal level.
In Nevada, we’ve shown that it is possible to create an equitable and business friendly framework that benefits both cannabis business owners and consumers. With federal action, we can take this work to the next level.
Steve Yeager is a Democratic state assemblyman representing District 9 in Clark County, and speaker pro tempore of the Nevada State Assembly.
Texas Judge Upholds Delta-8 THC Ban In Initial Ruling, But The Fight Isn’t Over
A Texas judge has ruled that the state’s ban on hemp products containing more than 0.3 percent delta-8 THC can remain in effect as a legal challenge moves through the process.
The cannabis company Hometown Hero filed a suit against the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) last week, arguing that it improperly revised its hemp policy this month to specifically prohibit products with more than trace amounts of forms of THC other than delta-9, the most commonly known psychoactive compound in cannabis.
In a ruling dated Friday and announced on Monday, the court decided against the plaintiffs’ request to have a temporary restraining order imposed on the state. Subsequently, the hemp business said it will halt sales of certain products as it prepares for a November 5 hearing on a more consequential temporary injunction against the state.
These are just the first steps in yet another legal battle over hemp in the state following the plant’s legalization.
Delta-8 THC has surged in popularity, particularly in states with more restrictive marijuana laws. It produces intoxicating effects similar to delta-9 THC, but it can be synthetically produced by converting CBD derived from hemp. The novelty of delta-8 products has left legal loopholes, which is likely why DSHS moved to broadly prohibit products with more than 0.3 percent of any type of THC.
DSHS appears to have responded to this increased market demand and questions from hemp businesses by updating its policy with the broader interpretation of THC. Here’s what the department’s site now says:
“Texas Health and Safety Code Chapter 443 (HSC 443), established by House Bill 1325 (86th Legislature), allows Consumable Hemp Products in Texas that do not exceed 0.3% Delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). All other forms of THC, including Delta-8 in any concentration and Delta-9 exceeding 0.3%, are considered Schedule I controlled substances.”
Hometown Hero had hoped to get a temporary restraining order against DSHS to prevent it from taking action against hemp businesses that sell delta-8 THC, but now it must wait to see what comes out of next month’s follow-up hearing.
“The DSHS stance flips the hemp definition on its head,” an attorney for the plaintiffs said in court on Friday, according to Texas Cannabis Collective.
The department, for its part, says it has not made any policy change and that delta-8 THC has been statutorily classified the same as delta-9 since hemp was legalized in 2019. A spokesperson said it simply “posted the clarification below on our website in response to recent requests from hemp growers who said that there was confusion in the industry about what was allowed in consumable hemp products.”
Activists have criticized DSHS for making hemp policy decisions without affording the public a real chance to participate.
“We expect the Department of State Health Services to always operate with full transparency,” Heather Fazio, director of Texans for Responsible Marijuana Policy, told Marijuana Moment. “It has been made abundantly clear that, by posting meeting notices in obscure locations, DSHS denied the public an opportunity to weigh in on proposed changes to the Controlled Substances Act.”
At the federal level, delta-8 THC has also captured the attention of agencies like the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Regulators at those departments recently issued warnings about products containing the cannabinoid, saying they’ve seen a significant uptick in reported adverse health effects.
FDA also announced a plan this month to us “novel” data sources like Reddit to gain a better understanding of public health issues surrounding use of delta-8 THC and other cannabinoids such as CBD.
Back in Texas, the hemp industry has become familiarized with the court system as businesses have navigated the new law.
In the same district court where this new delta-8 THC lawsuit has been filed, a judge ruled in August that Texas’s ban on the production and sale of smokable hemp products is unconstitutional.
Judge Lora Livingston ruled in favor of plaintiffs—a group of hemp businesses who sued the DSHS over a ban on the manufacturing and selling of smokable cannabis products it imposed after the crop was legalized.
An appeals court had previously modified a prior injunction and determined that regulators couldn’t enforce a ban on the sales component of the smokable hemp market. But following the August ruling, there’s a permanent injunction that bars the state from prohibiting the full range of hemp activity.
Meanwhile, Texas activists are working to enact local reforms on marijuana.
Advocates in San Marcos, Texas recently launched a campaign to put marijuana decriminalization on the local ballot in 2022.
Just to the north of San Marcos, a separate campaign attempted to put cannabis decriminalization on Austin’s ballot this November, but activists have since shifted their strategy toward putting the measure in front of voters on the May 2022 ballot. They will also target additional cities next November.
There is no statewide, citizen-led initiative process that would enable advocates to put an issue like decriminalization or legalization on the Texas ballot. But at the local level, there are limited cases where activists can leverage home rule laws that allow for policy changes.
A strong majority of Texans back even broader reform, according to recent polling. Sixty percent of voters in the state support making cannabis legal “for any use,” signaling that local initiatives for more modest proposals like decriminalization will likely prevail where they qualify for local ballots.
This year’s legislative session in Texas saw numerous drug policy proposals advance, with bills to expand the state’s medical cannabis program and require a study into the therapeutic potential of certain psychedelics for military veterans having been enacted.
Advocates remain disappointed, however, that lawmakers were unable to pass more expansive cannabis bills—including a decriminalization proposal that cleared the House but saw no action in the Senate.
Photo courtesy of Brendan Cleak.