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Where Presidential Candidate Seth Moulton Stands On Marijuana

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Rep. Seth Moulton (D-MA) announced on April 22, 2019 that he was competing for the 2020 Democratic nomination and dropped out of the race on August 23.

An Iraq War veteran who has sponsored legislation to reform cannabis policies at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA)—and who endorsed marijuana legalization prior to the voters of his state enacting it—the congressman earned a “B+” grade from NORML. Here’s a closer look at his record on cannabis.

This piece was last updated on August 29, 2019 to include the candidate’s statements and policy actions on marijuana since joining the race.

Legislation And Policy Actions

Moulton has been the chief sponsor of six marijuana-related bills, all of which focus on medical cannabis for military veterans.

During the 115th and 116th Congresses, he introduced bipartisan legislation that would require the VA to survey veterans about medical marijuana and another bill that would direct the department to provide training on cannabis to primary care physicians.

The congressman also filed a bill that would protect veterans from losing VA benefits due to marijuana use that’s in compliance with state law.

“Veterans want an alternative to opioids, and Congress should support them,” Moulton said in a press release about the package of bills. “Let’s not kid ourselves: people are using marijuana—including our veterans. Rather than ignoring this reality, Congress should let doctors talk with their patients about it, and we should learn more about cannabis so it can be safely used and properly regulated.”

“We have a long road ahead of us until medicinal cannabis is fully-researched and legal, but a few steps now will speed that along. Veterans deserve the best healthcare in the world,” he said. “This is a step in that direction.”

Outside of filing those bills, Moulton has signed on as a cosponsor of over a dozen other pieces of cannabis legislation, including bills that would remove marijuana from the list of federally controlled substances and exempt state-legal marijuana activity from the Controlled Substances Act (CSA).

Moulton has also cosponsored bipartisan bills that would shield banks that service state-legal marijuana businesses from being penalized by federal regulators and another to provide for tax fairness for the cannabis industry.

Other legislation he has signed onto would require the federal government to study the effects of state legalization laws, direct the VA conduct clinical trials on medical cannabis for veterans, shield federal employees from being fired for state-legal marijuana use and allow students to retain federal financial aid if they’re convicted of cannabis possession and complete a drug rehabilitation program.

He also cosponsored bills that would allow VA doctors to recommend medical cannabis for veterans and to require the Justice Department to approve additional marijuana manufacturer licenses for research purposes.

The first piece of marijuana legislation that Moulton cosponsored was the Compassionate Access, Research Expansion, and Respect States (CARERS) Act, which would amend the CSA to protect medical marijuana patients and place cannabis in Schedule II.

In terms of votes on amendments, the congressman has a consistent track record of supporting reform on the House floor. In 2015, he voted in favor of amendments to protects states that have legalized marijuana for medical and recreational purposes, as well as states that have legalized CBD and industrial hemp. He also voted for amendments to allow VA doctors to recommend medical cannabis in 2015 and 2016.

On The Campaign Trail

Moulton wrote an op-ed for The Washington Examiner in which he advocated for legislation providing access to medical cannabis for veterans.

“There are places we have to strictly enforce drug laws and places we need to liberalize them, but there’s no question that the vast majority of cities and countries that have decriminalized drugs have seen an improvement in their addicted populations,” he said. “It’s time for change.”

“Ultimately, making the VA a place where veterans can discuss and maybe someday access cannabis, will help our country evolve on this issue too. Through that evolution, I believe we will be able to tackle bigger challenges together—like ending the fundamentally-unjust process of locking people up for possessing marijuana, and, in effect, sentencing them to a lifetime of fewer job opportunities. I support releasing people who are in jail for marijuana possession and expunging their records, especially because Americans in more than half the states in the nation voted to decriminalize this.”

He included adopting a “holistic approach to treatment, including alternative therapies like mindfulness, exercise, & cannabis” in a mental health plan he released in May 2019.

The same month, Moulton said that people in prison for marijuana should be released and have their records expunged.

The congressman said that when he was enlisting in the Marines, he was asked about his cannabis use and that he was privileged to have been accepted after telling the truth that he did previously consume marijuana while others may be denied. He made the admission while advocating for an amendment that would provide military reenlistment waivers for those who only used marijuana once, which cleared a congressional committee in March and was later approved by the full House.

“I’ve seen the statistics of how unbelievably unjust these laws are applied,” he told Business Insider in June 2019 while discussing racial disparities in marijuana enforcement.

“Our criminal justice system is historically unfair,” he tweeted. “One thing we can do to address it is legalize marijuana and make sure those with minor marijuana offenses—who are overwhelmingly people of color—have their records cleared.”

Moulton also delivered a keynote address via video for a cannabis conference.

The congressman told The Boston Globe that he is open to decriminalizing drugs beyond cannabis and that he supports legalizing safe injection sites where people can use illicit drugs like heroin in a medically supervised environment.

“There are places we have to strictly enforce drug laws and places we need to liberalize them, but there’s no question that the vast majority of cities and countries that have decriminalized drugs have seen an improvement in their addicted populations,” he said.

In an interview with Newsy, Moulton said that he is “absolutely open to exploring” legalizing drugs like psilocybin but that more research is needed.

“This is part of our job in Congress is, rather than being black and white about these issues when we don’t even understand the facts, this is a good example of something where I just need to learn the facts and understand more about it,” he said.

Previous Quotes And Social Media Posts

Moulton isn’t especially prolific when it comes to talking about marijuana on social media as compared to some other candidates, but what he has said bodes well for reform advocates.

Importantly, he publicly endorsed Massachusetts’s cannabis legalization measure ahead of Election Day in  2016—something that fellow 2020 contender Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) declined to do.

“I support legalization, but we do need to make sure it’s done right,” he said at the time. “We have an obligation to regulate it and make it as safe as possible.”

“One of the advantages of legalization is it will force us to come to terms with things already happening in Massachusetts today, like people driving under the influence of marijuana and kids using it,” he told WBGH. “If you’re not buying your marijuana from a dealer who sells heroin, who sells opioids, it’s much less likely to be a gateway drug. The problem is now that it operates in the shadows.”

After voters approved the legalization initiative, Moulton said that the state legislature should “dramatically raise the taxes” on marijuana to raise revenue and help fund law enforcement efforts, and he said there’s “a lot of work to be done” that “needs to start right away.”

“There’s a lot that the state legislature needs to do,” Moulton said. “My whole reason for endorsing this was that we’ve got to bring marijuana out of the shadows and actually regulate it. That’s up to the state legislature. So I think this is an important step in the right direction because, let’s not kid ourselves, people were getting access to marijuana today and they were getting access to it yesterday as well.”

Moulton often talks about bringing cannabis “out of the shadows” so that it can be regulated. And he criticized the lack of operating dispensaries in Massachusetts, observing that cannabis will still be sold and consumed in jurisdictions that aren’t allowing the shops.

“The reality is, we’re not going to make marijuana go away by pretending that it’s not in our community,” he said in 2018. “What we ought to be doing is figuring out ways to regulate its use responsibly because otherwise it’s going to be used in the shadows.”

“It’s not my role as a United States representative to come and tell Peabody what to do, but I’m certainly entitled to my opinion and that is my view of this issue,” he said. “I think we’ve got to wake up to the world that we’re in and be responsible about regulating these substances that are a part of our community—and can be used safely, if used appropriately—rather than outlawing them and pretending that they’re not going to be here at all.”

The congressman also applauded the Salem for accepting marijuana businesses, saying that the city was “leading the way.”

“I think the demand that we see proves what I have said all along: People are using marijuana and they want to use it legally, and we should allow them to use it legally and safely with the proper regulation, rather than pretend by outlawing it, people are going to stop,” he said.

Speaking about legislation he filed with respect to veterans and marijuana, Moulton said in 2018 that “it’s clear that this is where things are going” and noted his support for Massachusetts’s legalization initiative. He said “we need to realize people are going to use marijuana whether we like it or not, so let’s make it legal and let’s regulate it to make it safe.”

While testing the waters in the primary state of Iowa in March 2019, Moulton talked about his support for cannabis decriminalization and said that it can help veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and also serve as an alternative to opioid painkillers.

He also talked about his veterans bills on the Cannabis Economy podcast, saying he and fellow sponsor Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) “want to make it very clear to everybody—to veterans, to healthcare providers—that if you’re using cannabis, you should talk about it.”

“You should be able to have an honest, transparent conversation with your healthcare provider so that they can give you better health care,” he said.

Moulton criticized then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions after he rescinded Obama-era guidance on federal marijuana enforcement priorities.

“This is the opposite of what we should be doing. Let’s not kid ourselves—people will be using marijuana regardless of what Attorney General Sessions says,” he wrote. “We have an obligation to regulate it and make it as safe as possible.”

His House reelection campaign subsequently put out a survey claiming that the Trump administration “wants to crack down on possession—hurting those in need of medicinal marijuana and putting new businesses in jeopardy” and posed the question: “do you think the Trump Administration should be interfering with states marijuana laws?”

Personal Experience With Marijuana

Moulton said he has tried marijuana “a couple times” while he was a student at Harvard University, but he added that he “certainly didn’t qualify as a pothead.”

In March 2019, the congressman said “I’ve used weed, and I’m not in prison.”

“Why? Because I didn’t get caught, and it probably doesn’t hurt that I’m white,” he said. That’s the sad reality of criminal justice in America today.”

One month later, he repeated that point during a CNN town hall event.

“I smoked weed when I was younger,” he said. “I didn’t get caught, but if I had, I would’ve been fine. Because I’m a white guy.”

Marijuana Under A Moulton Presidency

Moulton has made marijuana reform—particularly for veterans seeking medical cannabis—somewhat of a priority during his time in Congress. He hasn’t added his name as a cosponsor to broad, equity-focused bills like the Marijuana Justice Act, but he has repeatedly said that the country should regulate cannabis sales to bring it out of the shadows.

And having endorsed the legalization measure in Massachusetts prior to its approval by voters in 2016, Moulton would be in a position to take similar leadership on the issue if elected president.

Where Presidential Candidate Eric Swalwell Stands On Marijuana

Marijuana Moment is made possible with support from readers. If you rely on our cannabis advocacy journalism to stay informed, please consider a monthly Patreon pledge.

Kyle Jaeger is Marijuana Moment's Los Angeles-based associate editor. His work has also appeared in High Times, VICE and attn.

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New Mexico Lawmakers Will Work To Unify Conflicting Marijuana Proposals This Week Following House Passage

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One day after New Mexico’s House of Representatives passed legislation to legalize marijuana for adults 21 and older, a Senate panel held a Saturday hearing to take initial testimony on three competing legalization bills introduced in that chamber.

The committee did not vote on any of the measures, instead using the hearing to compare the various Senate proposals to one another as well as to the House-passed legislation, HB 12. “I think we’re just trying to get a feel for these four bills,” said Senate Tax, Business and Transportation Committee Chairman Benny Shendo Jr. (D), who led the hearing.

The bills’ sponsors will now work to combine elements of the various Senate proposals before returning to the committee for a possible vote next Saturday. Despite overlap on some issues, major disagreements remain over the structure of the commercial cannabis market, how tax revenue will be allocated and the makeup of a state oversight board that would regulate the new industry.

“In the next week, basically, the sponsors of these four bills need to see if we can get to one bill,” Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth (D) said at the hearing, “and make a decision in this committee so that we don’t end up in a situation where there’s just multiple moving pieces.”

If backers can’t do that, Wirth added, “there’s a good chance we end up with nothing” by the time the legislative session ends on March 20.

Sen. Jacob Candelaria’s (D) SB 363 is the most closely aligned with the House measure, although Republican members of the Senate panel said they prefer SB 288, introduced by GOP Sen. Cliff Pirtle, who said he brought the measure “because I felt like something as important as legalizing the sale of recreational cannabis really needed to have a bipartisan approach.”

Sen. Craig Brandt (R), a member of the Senate panel, indicated he’s open to legalization depending on how it’s done.

“I think I can support this issue with the right pieces,” he said at the end of Saturday’s hearing, adding that SB 288 is “very close” to what he’d like to see in marijuana legislation. “There are certain things that I cannot and will not support in the House bill.”

The third bill in the Senate, SB 13, is a pared-down version of the other legalization proposals and is seen as a comparative outlier. The industry-backed bill’s House companion, HB 17, sponsored by Rep. Tara Lujan (D), was defeated in a House committee earlier this month as lawmakers proceeded with HB 12.

Lujan spoke in favor of SB 13 at the Senate hearing on behalf of the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto (D), warning the panel against adopting an overly complex bill.

“There is a lot of stuff going on here,” Lujan said, “and I’ve seen cannabis legislation fail because it’s too complicated.”

But Rep. Javier Martínez (D), lead sponsor for HB 12, seemed to dismiss that criticism later in the hearing, stressing that it’s important the new law be comprehensive.


Marijuana Moment is already tracking more than 700 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.

“This is a big deal,” he said. “This is a big industry that we’re about to create, and we get a chance to design what the industry will look like ahead of time. That hasn’t happened with the other big industries in New Mexico.”

Martínez’s bill, passed Friday by House lawmakers in a 39–21 vote, would set up an extensive system of licensing and regulation for the cannabis industry. Rules for the new market would need to be implemented by January 2022. Small businesses and existing medical marijuana companies could begin selling products that same month, with other businesses set to open in September 2022.

The bill would allow adults to possess “at least” two ounces of cannabis (regulators could set limits beyond that) and grow up to six mature and six immature plants for personal use.

Martínez said SB 363 was the most similar to the House bill of all the Senate measures, calling it “very, very aligned to what we’re doing.”

Much of Saturday’s committee hearing focused on proposed limits on business licenses and how many plants licensed producers could grow. Not only will those rules determine how easily people can enter the new market, but they’ll also likely affect available supply—a big determinant of product prices.

Both HB 12 and SB 363 would allow businesses with cultivation licenses to grow an unlimited number of plants and create a separate category of small, so-called microbusinesses that could grow a small number of plants and then process and sell marijuana products directly. Those businesses would have a lower barrier to entry in terms of licensing and fees, aimed at ensuring wider access to the industry.

SB 288, meanwhile, wouldn’t create separate license categories but would set a per-plant fee on licensing in an effort to allow a lower point of entry for small growers.

One important difference between HB 12 and SB 363, Candelaria pointed out to the panel, is that his Senate bill would allow standalone businesses to establish cannabis consumption areas, designated zones where marijuana could be used openly. The areas would be regulated by the same board that would oversee the commercial industry.

The House-passed bill would allow social consumption, too, but would limit consumption licenses to businesses engaged in other elements of the industry, such as retail marijuana stores.

Pirtle, the sponsor of SB 288, said his bill approaches legalization with the aim of ending underground sales, not necessarily raising revenue. “The first goal when legalizing cannabis,” he said at the beginning of his testimony, “is to put the illicit market out of business.”

While there’s some disagreement over how to model tax projections, estimates of how much revenue the market could raise range between $13 million and $25 million for the first year of legal sales and as much as $150 million by year five.

SB 288 would raise less money due to its comparatively lower taxes, which Pirtle said would help make legal sales more competitive with the illicit market. His measure would route virtually all of the money back to municipal governments where the cannabis transactions take place. “Those are the communities that are going to be impacted,” Pirtle said, “so they can add more police officers or cop cars.”

Candelaria, for his part, said taxes rates aren’t the way to ensure legal businesses are competitive with the illicit market. Ensuring adequate supply, such as through allowing unlimited cultivation under SB 363 and HB 12, would do far more to ensure legal products can compete on price.

“As the result of New Mexico’s plant cap” on existing medical marijuana businesses, he said, “one gram of medical cannabis costs approximately on average $10 in New Mexico. It costs $8.15 a gram in Arizona and $5.96 in Colorado.”

Those prices in Arizona and Colorado, he added, include tax.

The three Senate bills also differ on how they would address social equity and racial justice. While those issues were raised only in passing at Friday’s hearing, drug reform advocates have said they prefer HB 12’s equity provisions over any of the Senate bills.

“HB 12 legalizes cannabis in an equitable way that begins to repair the harms that have disproportionately impacted Hispanic/Latinx, Black, Native and Indigenous people in New Mexico,” Emily Kaltenbach, senior director of resident States and New Mexico for the Drug Policy Alliance, told Marijuana Moment after Friday’s vote in the House. “New Mexicans are absolutely ready to see marijuana legalization become a reality in the state, but they have made it clear that repairing the damage done by the drug war is non-negotiable.”

The House measure would establish a fund to reinvest in communities most impacted by the war on drugs, especially Black and brown communities, and includes provisions to automatically expunge prior convictions.

SB 363 includes expungement and release provisions that “mimic” those in HB 12, Candelaria told the committee, noting that his bill would also criminal reduce penalties for possession all controlled substances, not just marijuana. Simple possession of a controlled substance would become a misdemeanor under SB 363 rather than a fourth-degree felony.

Candelaria proposed that his bill, SB 363, be the main vehicle to reconcile with the House measure. “What I think makes the most sense,” he told the committee chairman, “is because the House bill has already gone through the process, is that…my bill is basically merged into House Bill 12. I think they are the most similar, both in values and their approach.”

He added that he and Pirtle “already have plans to have lunch on Monday,” to discuss how to incorporate SB 288.

If all goes well, lawmakers will have whittled down the number of bills by the committee’s scheduled meeting on the measures this coming Saturday.

“I think the message was pretty loud and clear to the sponsors,” Shendo, the panel’s chairman, said at the end of this weekend’s hearing. “They’ve got a lot of work ahead of them, and I hope I get invited to one of those lunches.”

Meanwhile, New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D) has repeatedly described legalization as a means to boost the economy, especially amid the coronavirus pandemic. She said during a State of the State address in January that “a crisis like the one we’ve experienced last year can be viewed as a loss or as an invitation to rethink the status quo—to be ambitious and creative and bold.”

The governor also included cannabis legalization as part of her 2021 legislative agenda and said in a recent interview that she’s “still really optimistic about cannabis” this session.

Additional pressure to end cannabis prohibition this year is coming from neighboring Arizona, where voters approved legalization in November and where sales officially launched in January. New Mexico shares another border with Colorado, one of the first states to legalize for adult use.

Cannabis is also expected to be legalized across the southern border, in Mexico, with lawmakers facing a Supreme Court mandate to end prohibition by April.

Last year in New Mexico, a Senate panel passed a bill to legalize cannabis for adult use passed one New Mexico Senate committee —a measure promptly rejected in another committee before the end of the 30-day legislative session.

In 2019, the House approved a legalization bill that included provisions to put marijuana sales mostly in state-run stores, but it died in the Senate. Later that year, Gov. Lujan Grisham created a working group to study cannabis legalization and issue recommendations.

Polling indicates that voters are ready for the policy change. A survey released in October found that a strong majority of New Mexico residents are in favor of legalization with social equity provisions in place, and about half support decriminalizing drug possession more broadly.

Last May, the governor signaled that she was considering actively campaigning against lawmakers who blocked her legalization bill in 2020. She also said that she’s open to letting voters decide on the policy change via a ballot referendum if lawmakers can’t send a legalization bill to her desk.

Washington, D.C. Could Allow Marijuana Sales Under Mayor’s New Bill And Democratic Control Of Congress

Photo courtesy of Kimberly Lawson

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Washington, D.C. Could Allow Marijuana Sales Under Mayor’s New Bill And Democratic Control Of Congress

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The mayor of Washington, D.C. on Friday introduced a bill to create a regulated marijuana market in the District. And while similar legislation has been introduced in past years, the new proposal comes as Democrats take control of both chambers of Congress—a situation that bodes well for removing a federal spending rider that has long blocked legal cannabis sales from being implemented in the nation’s capital.

In other words, there’s renewed hope among advocates that 2021 will finally be the year that a commercial cannabis industry can be established in D.C., where voters approved an initiative legalizing marijuana possession and home cultivation in 2014. Congressional appropriations legislation has since prevented the District from authorizing sales, with Republicans in the majority in at least one chamber on Capitol Hill.

Mayor Muriel Bowser’s (D) bill largely reflects past proposals, though it does include new licensing provisions and funding mechanisms that are meant to bolster social equity in the industry.

“This is about safety, equity, and justice,” Bowser said in a press release. “Through this legislation, we can fulfill the will of D.C. voters, reduce barriers for entering the cannabis industry, and invest in programs that serve residents and neighborhoods hardest hit by the criminalization of marijuana.”

Under the Safe Cannabis Sales Act, adults 21 and older would be allowed to purchase marijuana from licensed dispensaries starting October 1, 2022. A 17 percent tax would be imposed on cannabis sales.

The bill would provide for automatic expungements of prior marijuana convictions and use part of the tax revenue from cannabis sales to support reinvestments in communities most impacted by prohibition. It would also create a new licensing category for delivery services, with a stipulation that eligibility is continent on residency and income factors, such as requiring owners to have lived in certain low-income wards for at least five years.


Marijuana Moment is already tracking more than 700 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.

The proposal calls for some tax revenue to be used for grants to be awarded to “locally disadvantaged certified business enterprises to open/expand sit-down restaurants in Wards 7/8. Additional monies would be used to support small grocery stores in those areas. Starting in fiscal year 2023, revenue would fund “school supplies, equipment, and afterschool sports and activities for students attending public schools” in those wards.

With respect to licensing, the legislation would also provide “preference points for certain cannabis business applications for returning citizens or D.C. residents arrested or convicted of a cannabis offense or to a cannabis certified business enterprise or veteran owned business enterprises.”

The activist group D.C. Marijuana Justice expressed concerns with several provisions of Bowser’s bill, including that it could limit the amount of cannabis that people could possess after growing the plant at home under the city’s current law.

Last year, the mayor released a budget plan for the 2021 fiscal year that contained a signal that the local government was preparing to implement regulations for retail marijuana sales just as soon as Congress allowed it by shifting the city’s current medical cannabis program to the jurisdiction of the Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration (ABRA).

Bowser also unveiled a legalization bill in 2019, and part of it called for ABRA to regulate the legal industry and for the agency to be renamed the Alcoholic Beverage and Cannabis Administration, a change that is also included in the mayor’s latest legislation.

Meanwhile, next door to the District, lawmakers in Virginia sent a marijuana legalization bill to the desk of Gov. Ralph Northam (D) on Saturday. On the other side of the city, legislators in Maryland are also considering legalizing cannabis this year.

In D.C., Bowser approved legislation in December to decriminalize possession of drug paraphernalia for personal use and promote harm reduction.

Activists filed a proposed ballot initiative to legalize marijuana sales in August, but it did not advance.

Separately, a local councilman introduced a bill in October that would expand opportunities for formerly incarcerated people to participate in the city’s existing medical cannabis market. The new legislation from Bowser would specifically make it so “returning citizens and D.C. residents with a criminal background” could work or manage a marijuana businesses. And those with past cannabis convictions could own a marijuana business.

Read the mayor’s marijuana sales bill below: 

Safe Cannabis Sales Act of … by Marijuana Moment

Marijuana Use Won’t Automatically Block People From Federal Jobs, Biden Administration Memo Says

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Virginia Lawmakers Send Marijuana Legalization Bill To Governor’s Desk Just Hours Before Deadline

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Virginia lawmakers approved a bill to legalize marijuana with just hours left before the deadline to get legislation to the governor this session.

The Senate and House of Delegates approved differing reform proposals earlier this month, and negotiators have since been working to reconcile the bills in conference committee—a contentious process that at times appeared as if it would end without a deal.

But on Saturday, lawmakers agreed to the bicameral compromise plan.

The Senate voted 20-19 to approve the conference committee report on its bill as well as the identical version for the House legislation. The House voted to approve the conference report on its bill, 48-43, with two abstentions. When considering the Senate version, the House voted 47-44, with one abstention.

“It’s been a lot of work to get here,” Sen. Adam Ebbin (D), the lead sponsor of the Senate version of the legislation, said prior to the Senate vote. “But I would say that we’re on the path to an equitable law allowing for responsible adults to use cannabis.”

House Majority Leader Charniele Herring (D), the chief sponsor of the her chamber’s legalization bill, said that “racial justice is about more than addressing penalties for simple possession.”

“It is about reformative justice that provides equitable and social economic opportunity for individuals and communities which have been harmed by disproportionate policing and prosecution of cannabis,” she said. “Legalizing cannabis does not end systematic racism but it does remove one of the tools used in advancing systematic racism.”

The compromise legislation now goes to the desk of Gov. Ralph Northam (D), who supports ending cannabis prohibition.

Among the most pressing issues for lawmakers to negotiate in recent weeks was the timeline for crafting regulations for the cannabis market. The Senate has pushed for a reenactment clause to be included which would extend the process into next session, whereas the House side wanted to complete legislative work during the current session, arguing that enough research has already been done to effectively decide the issue. But Senate negotiators won out, meaning that the legislature will revisit cannabis regulations and post-legalization penalty structures next session.

Another major area of contention dealt with how the state would approach cannabis possession in the time between the bill’s signing and implementation of legal sales going into effect. Under both versions, the adult-use market wouldn’t launch until January 1, 2024 to give the state time to establish a regulatory agency to oversee the program. While the Senate had wanted to make the legalization of simple possession and home cultivation take effect starting on July 1 of this year, negotiators ultimately agreed to delay it to coincide with commercialization in 2024.

In the meantime, under the deal, a new Virginia Cannabis Control Authority will begin work this July to lay the ground for a legal marijuana industry.

Here are some of the other major provisions that were resolved in conference: 

Referendum—The Senate version of the bill would have asked voters to weigh in on legalization through a nonbinding referendum on this November’s ballot. But the issue became increasingly contentious in recent days and conference negotiators decided to drop the idea.

Local control—Whereas the Senate measure called for individual cities to be able to ban marijuana businesses from operating in their area, the House version did not include an opt-out provision. Conferees decided to allow municipalities to elect to ban cannabis commercialization, but they must do so by December 31, 2022.

Penalties for youth—Under the House bill, minors caught possessing cannabis would be subject to a $25 fine with a referral to substance misuse treatment. The Senate, meanwhile, proposed a $250 fine for youth possession for the first offense and then criminal charges and even jail time for subsequent convictions. The agreed-upon final legislation would continue the current approach of treating youth possession as a delinquency, subject to a civil penalty of up to $25, but add a mandatory substance misuse treatment or education program or both. There would be no interaction with courts for such youths. For people between the ages of 18 and 20, the conference deal would continue the existing $25 fee that exists under the state’s decriminalization law and add that they may be ordered to enter a treatment or education program or both.

Social equity—Both versions of the legislation called for licensing priorities for social equity businesses, but there were differences in how each chamber defined what constitutes a social equity applicant. The final legislation defines an equity business as one that has at least 66 percent ownership by people who have been convicted of misdemeanor marijuana offenses (or have family members with such convictions) or people who live in a geographic area that is economically distressed or has a disproportionate rate of cannabis policing. People who graduated from a historically black college or university located in the state would also qualify. Also, beginning on July 1, the state would establish Cannabis Equity Reinvestment Fund and a Cannabis Equity Business Loan Fund.

Vertical integration—The House’s measure would ban vertical integration, a process that would allow a single company could control aspects of growing, processing and selling marijuana products. The Senate, meanwhile, wanted to allow vertical integration only if a cannabis business paid a $1 million fee into a state equity fund. Under the final legislation, vertical integration will be generally limited but will allow existing medical cannabis and hemp businesses to partially vertically integrate. Micro-businesses will also be able to vertically integrate.

In general 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. It also allows people to petition for suspended or modified sentences for marijuana convictions and establishes criteria for sealing past records.

The bill would set a cannabis excise tax of 21 percent and allow localities to add an additional 3 percent tax on top of the state’s existing 6 percent retail sales tax. Revenue would partly fund pre-K education programs for at-risk youth and would support the new equity funds as well as addiction prevention and treatment services and public health initiatives.


Marijuana Moment is already tracking more than 700 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.

The proposal would create a new cannabis-focused state agency to regulate the legal market as opposed to having it fall under the existing alcoholic beverage authority as was the case under the governor’s original plan.

Post-legalization penalties set to go into effect in 2024, which are subject to renewal by the legislature next session, would include a $25 fine for possessing between one ounce and one pound in public. For public consumption, there would be a civil penalty of no more than $25 for first offense. A second offense would come with a $25 civil penalty and an order to enter a substance misuse treatment or education program, or both. Third or subsequent offenses would constitute a Class 4 misdemeanor with no possibility of jail time. Meanwhile, bringing marijuana across state lines would be a Class 1 misdemeanor.

Now that the final bill is headed to Northam’s desk, the governor will have the opportunity to suggest amendments to lawmakers, who can then adopt the suggestions as is or change or reject them, at which point the bill would go back to the governor for final action.

Northam’s spokesperson indicated on Saturday that the governor intends to make some changes to the bill, saying that while its passage is a “major step,” he “looks forward to continuing to improve this legislation.”

Jenn Michelle Pedini, executive director of Virginia NORML, said the bill’s passage “is another historic step for cannabis justice” that will “replace the failed policy of cannabis prohibition with one that promotes Virginia’s economy as well as Virginians’ public health and safety.”

“This effort remains a work in progress and our efforts in Virginia are far from over,” Pedini, who also serves as NORML’s national development director, said. “NORML is dedicated to continuing our work with lawmakers and regulators to advance legislative reforms that are most closely aligned with the views of the majority of Virginians who desire a safe, legal cannabis market. In particular, we hope to expedite the timeline with which Virginia adults will no longer face either criminal or civil penalties for the personal possession and cultivation of cannabis.”

Matt Simon, senior legislative analyst for the Marijuana Policy Project, said it’s “exciting that Virginia is on track to end cannabis prohibition and replace it with sensible regulation.”

“Lawmakers in other states are already taking notice and seeking to learn from Virginia’s example,” he said.

Earlier on Saturday, the ACLU of Virginia and other groups had urged lawmakers to defeat the final proposal prior to the release of its actual text, saying that the provisions as described in media reports showed it to be a “symbolic marijuana legalization bill made behind closed doors that does not advance the cause of equal justice and racial justice.”

The Virginia NAACP argued that the bill, based on press accounts, “includes Systemically Racist probable cause provisions” and pledged that its members “will not stand by while Jim Crow’s sister Jane tries to creep her way into Virginia law.”

But after the bill’s text came out, NAACP issued an updated statement saying that while the final legislation “is not perfect, it’s a step in the right direction.”

The ACLU, for its part, maintained its opposition, saying that lawmakers “failed to legalize marijuana for racial justice” and “paid lip service to the communities that have suffered decades of harm caused by the racist War on Drugs with legislation that falls short of equitable reform and delays justice.”

All of this legislative action comes a little over a month after Northam and top lawmakers initially unveiled their legalization proposal.

The cannabis legislation’s structure was informed by separate studies conducted by a legislative research body and a working group made up of state cabinet officials.

Support for legalizing marijuana is strong in Virginia, according to a poll released this month. It found that a majority of adults in the Commonwealth (68 percent) favor adult-use legalization, and that includes most 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 also advanced this session.

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.

Read a summary of the provisions of the Virginia marijuana legalization conference report below:

Virginia Marijuana Legalization Conference Details by Marijuana Moment on Scribd

New Mexico House Approves Marijuana Legalization Bill, With Senate Action Imminent

Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.

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