The Virginia House of Delegates and Senate on Friday approved bills to legalize marijuana in the Commonwealth, meeting a key mid-session deadline and getting the major policy change one step closer to being enacted.
The bills have been heard and amended by numerous committees and subcommittees since Gov. Ralph Northam (D) and top lawmakers unveiled their legalization proposal last month.
The House approved the final version of its bill in a 55-42 vote, with two abstentions. Hours later, the Senate passed its proposal 23-15.
Huge win!! My marijuana legalization bill, HB2312, just passed through the full House. This legislation will provide long overdue justice for so many marginalized communities in Virginia. pic.twitter.com/g4XjtVjj5H
— Charniele Herring (@C_Herring) February 5, 2021
The bill “is a forward-thinking, deliberative approach to create 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,” Sen. Adam Ebbin (D) said on the floor, adding that the “Commonwealth’s prohibition on cannabis has clearly failed.”
. @SenLouiseLucas and my legislation to #legalize a regulated adult-use market for cannabis, repair the harms of prohibition, and advance equity in our Commonwealth passes the Senate by a vote of 23-15! pic.twitter.com/CSka1PFfKi
— Adam Ebbin (@AdamEbbin) February 5, 2021
Some House members spoke in opposition to the legislation during Friday’s floor debate, claiming that legalization would lead to increased youth use and impaired driving.
Del. Don Scott (D) defended the proposal and emphasized that it “provides social equity and helps improve those communities who have been most impacted and harmed by the prohibition against cannabis.”
Hard to believe how much the push for intersectional justice moves us Virginia Dems to act. A year ago legalizing marijuana & abolishing the death penalty were far-fetched. But Black Lives Matter protests moved the needle, so we just did both.
This one's for you, George Floyd.
— Del. Ibraheem Samirah (@IbraheemSamirah) February 5, 2021
Friday marks an important mid-session deadline to cross over bills from one chamber to the other. The House version will now head to the Senate, and the Senate version will be transmitted to the House for consideration.
Now it is expected that a bicameral conference committee will be empaneled to resolve the differences between the two chambers’ bills and merge them into a single proposal that the full legislature can send to the governor’s desk.
“Virginians have been clear in their support for this issue and Governor Northam agrees, it is time to legalize the responsible use of cannabis by adults in the Commonwealth,” Jenn Michelle Pedini, executive director of Virginia NORML, told Marijuana Moment. “And while today’s historic votes seek to put this majority public opinion into practice, there still remains much work to be done by NORML and others to ensure that Virginia gets it right and implements legislation that is expeditious and just.”
Marijuana Policy Project Executive Director Steve Hawkins said in a press release that “Virginia appears poised to join 15 other states that have adopted sensible laws that legalize and regulate marijuana for adults.”
Under the legislation, adults 21 and older would be able 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 also provides for automatic expungements for certain prior marijuana convictions.
Tax revenue from cannabis sales would partly fund pre-K education programs at at-risk youth and would support public health initiatives.
State Attorney General Mark Herring (D), who endorsed legalization ahead of Northam and other officials, cheered lawmakers’ action.
“Marijuana legalization is crucial for promoting equity,” he said on Twitter. “Proud of the work we’ve done in the Commonwealth to get to this moment.”
Marijuana legalization is crucial for promoting equity. Proud of the work we've done in the Commonwealth to get to this moment. https://t.co/ziVR7kouQL
— Mark Herring (@MarkHerringVA) February 5, 2021
Issues that came up in committees and will likely be debated in conference include: the regulatory structure for overseeing the industry, qualifications for social equity cannabis licensees, local control over how and where marijuana businesses can operate, home cultivation rights, vertical integration rules for the market and timelines for implementing the end of prohibition.
Marijuana Moment is already tracking more than 550 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.
Support for legalizing marijuana is strong in Virginia, according to a poll released this week. It found that a majority of adults in the Commonwealth (68 percent) favor adult-use legalization, and that includes a slim majority of Republicans (51 percent).
The legislature has also taken up a number of other more modest cannabis reform proposals this session.
Bills to allow medical patients to access whole-flower cannabis in addition to oils, facilitate automatic expungements for certain marijuana convictions, protect employment rights of medical cannabis patients and allow those in hospice and nursing facilities to access medical marijuana have each advanced in recent days.
Virginia lawmakers passed separate legislation last year that decriminalized possession of up to an ounce of marijuana, replacing existing penalties with a $25 civil fine and no threat of jail time. The law took effect last July.
Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.
Virginia Has Sealed 64,000 Marijuana Distribution Charges Since Legalization Took Effect This Summer
“These aren’t just numbers and there are families attached.”
By Ned Oliver, Virginia Mercury
Virginia has sealed records documenting more than 64,000 misdemeanor marijuana distribution charges since the state legalized the drug in July.
The figure came out Thursday during a meeting of the legislature’s Cannabis Oversight Commission.
Officials said the records were scrubbed from the state’s criminal record database, which is used by employers like school boards, state agencies and local governments to screen employees.
The state had already sealed 333,000 records detailing charges of simple possession last year after the state reduced the offense to a civil infraction on par with a traffic offense, said Shawn G. Talmadge, the Deputy Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security.
Lawmakers directed the state to expand that effort when they voted to broadly legalize recreational use of marijuana earlier this year.
The legislature also agreed to a broader expungement reform that will automatically seal other misdemeanor charges, including underage possession of alcohol, use of a fake ID, petit larceny, trespassing and disorderly conduct. Talmadge said those charges will remain in the system until the state finishes updating the software it uses to track criminal records.
“As of right now, the process is proceeding,” he said.
The Virginia Joint Commission on Cannabis Oversight is meeting now. You can find the agenda and links to livestream and to provide public comment at https://t.co/f1wsPn7SV7
— Jennifer McClellan (@JennMcClellanVA) October 14, 2021
Members of the oversight commission also heard from two advocates who urged them to move fast to address people currently imprisoned for marijuana offenses—a category of people the legalization legislation passed this year did not address.
Chelsea Higgs Wise, the leader of the advocacy group Marijuana Justice, and Gracie Burger, with the Last Prisoner Project, said Department of Corrections data suggests there are currently 10 people being held solely on serious marijuana charges.
They said it remains unknown how many more are being held because of marijuana related probation violations.
“These aren’t just numbers and there are families attached,” Burger said.
DEA Proposes Dramatic Increase In Marijuana And Psychedelic Production In 2022, Calling For 6,300 Percent More MDMA Alone
The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) is proposing a dramatic increase in the legal production of marijuana and psychedelics like psilocybin, LSD, MDMA and DMT to be used in research next year.
In a notice scheduled to be published in the Federal Register on Monday, the agency said there’s been a “significant increase in the use of schedule I hallucinogenic controlled substances for research and clinical trial purposes,” and it wants authorized manufacturers to meet that growing demand.
DEA had already massively upped its proposed 2021 quota for cannabis and psilocybin last month, but now it’s calling for significantly larger quantities of research-grade marijuana and a broader array of psychedelics to be manufactured in 2022.
It wants to double the amount of marijuana extracts, psilocybin and psilocyn, quadruple mescaline and quintuple DMT. What especially stands out in the notice is MDMA. The agency is proposing an enormous 6,300 percent boost in the production of that drug—from just 50 grams in 2021 to 3,200 grams in the coming year—as research into its therapeutic potential continues to expand.
LSD would see a 1,150 percent increase, up to 500 grams of the potent psychedelic.
Marijuana itself would get a 60 percent boost under DEA’s proposal, up to 3.2 million grams in 2022 from the 2 million grams last year.
Here’s a visualization of the proposed quota increase from 2021 to 2022 for marijuana and cannabis extracts:
For all other THC, psilocybin, psilocyn and MDMA:
And for other psychedelic substances like LSD, mescaline and DMT:
DEA said in the Federal Register notice that it has been receiving and approving additional applications to “grow, synthesize, extract, and manufacture dosage forms containing specific schedule I hallucinogenic substances for clinical trial purposes” to achieve these ambitious quotas.
“DEA supports regulated research with schedule I controlled substances, as evidenced by increases proposed for 2022 as compared with aggregate production quotas for these substances in 2021,” the agency said, adding that it working “diligently” to process and approve marijuana manufacturers applications in particular, as there’s currently only one farm at the University of Mississippi that’s permitted to cultivate the plant for research.
“Based on the increase in research and clinical trial applications, DEA has proposed increases in 3,4- Methylenedioxyamphetamine (MDA), 3,4-Methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA), 5-Methoxy-N,N-dimethyltryptamine, Dimethyltryptamine, Lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), Marihuana, Marihuana Extract, Mescaline, Psilocybin, Psilocyn, and All Other Tetrahydrocannabinols to support manufacturing activities related to the increased level of research and clinical trials with these schedule I controlled substances.”
Here are the exact numbers for the proposed 2021 and 2022 quotas:
|All other tetrahydrocannabinol||1,000||2,000|
A 30-day public comment period will be open after the notice is formally published on Monday.
It’s difficult to overstate just how significant the proposed 2022 increases are, but it’s certainly true that scientific and public interest in marijuana and psychedelics has rapidly increased, with early clinical trials signaling that such substances show significant therapeutic potential.
National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) Director Nora Volkow told Marijuana Moment in a recent interview that she was encouraged by DEA’s previous proposed increase in drug production quota. She also said that studies demonstrating the therapeutic benefits of psychedelics could be leading more people to experiment with substances like psilocybin.
Advocates and experts remain frustrated that these plants and fungi remain in the strictest federal drug category in the first place, especially considering the existing research that shows their medical value for certain conditions.
A federal appeals court in August dismissed a petition to require the DEA to reevaluate cannabis’s scheduling under the Controlled Substances Act. However, one judge did say in a concurring opinion that the agency may soon be forced to consider a policy change anyway based on a misinterpretation of the therapeutic value of marijuana.
Separately, the Washington State attorney general’s office and lawyers representing cancer patients recently urged a federal appeals panel to push for a DEA policy change to allow people in end-of-life care to access psilocybin under state and federal right-to-try laws.
Image element courtesy of Kristie Gianopulos.
Supreme Court Won’t Hear Case On Legalizing Safe Drug Consumption Sites, But Activists Are Undeterred
The U.S. Supreme Court (SCOTUS) has rejected a request to hear a case on the legality of establishing safe injection sites where people can use illicit drugs in a medically supervised environment.
The justices announced on Tuesday that they decided against taking up the case raised by the nonprofit Safehouse, despite the pleas of attorneys general from 10 states and D.C. who recently filed amici briefs urging the court’s involvement.
Representatives from 14 cities and counties, as well as the mayor of Philadelphia, which is at the center of the current case, also filed briefs in support of the case in recent days.
Safehouse was set to launch a safe consumption site in Philadelphia before being blocked by a legal challenge from the Trump administration. It filed a petition with the nation’s highest court in August to hear the case.
But while the Supreme Court declined to take action—and the Biden administration passed up its voluntary opportunity to weigh in at this stage, which may well have influenced the justices’ decision—activists say the battle will continue at a lower federal court level, where the administration will have to file briefs revealing its position on the issue.
Disappointed but not surprised U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear our case. We’re pursuing our claims in federal court. As that litigation proceeds, Biden administration will have to take a position, which it avoided by waiving its right to respond to our Supreme Court petition.
— Safehouse (@SafehousePhilly) October 13, 2021
“We were disappointed that the government chose not to respond to our petition,” Safehouse Vice President Ronda Goldfein told Filter. “They said, ‘We’re going to waive our right to respond,’ [and] the Supreme Court declined to review our case. Ordinarily that sounds like the end of the road—but in our case we are still pursuing our claims in a different venue.”
That venue will be the the federal district court in Philadelphia, where activists plan to submit multiple arguments related to religious freedom and interstate commerce protections. The Biden administration will be compelled to file a response in that court by November 5.
“If they don’t respond, they lose,” Goldfein said.
A coalition of 80 current and former prosecutors and law enforcement officials—including one who is President Joe Biden’s pick for U.S. attorney of Massachusetts—previously filed a brief urging the Supreme Court to take up Safehouse’s safe injection case.
Fair and Justice Prosecution, the group that coordinated the amicus brief, also organized a tour of Portugal for 20 top prosecutors in 2019 so they could learn about the successful implementation of the country’s drug decriminalization law.
If the Supreme Court were to have taken the case and rule in favor of Safehouse, it could have emboldened advocates and lawmakers across the country to pursue the harm reduction policy.
The governor of Rhode Island signed a bill in July to establish a safe consumption site pilot program where people could test and use currently illicit drugs in a medically supervised environment. It became the first state in the country to legalize the harm reduction centers. It’s not clear whether the Department of Justice will seek to intervene to prevent the opening of such facilities in that state.
Massachusetts lawmakers advanced similar legislation last year, but it was not ultimately enacted.
A similar harm reduction bill in California, sponsored by Sen. Scott Wiener (D), was approved in the state Senate in April, but further action has been delayed until 2022.