July 1st marked the one year anniversary of marijuana legalization in Virginia. With that anniversary comes multiple changes to marijuana laws in the commonwealth. Here's what you need to know.
Is marijuana legal in Virginia?
Republican Governor Glenn Youngkin signed the 2022 budget bill, which contains language recriminalizing activities involving the personal possession of over four ounces of marijuana in public. Under the new law, the public possession of over four ounces, but less than one pound of cannabis is a Class 3 misdemeanor punishable by a $500 fine. Second or subsequent offenses are Class 2 misdemeanors punishable by up to six months in jail and/or a $1,000 fine.
“Governor Youngkin’s actions are in direct conflict with his campaign promise to not roll back legalization and they are out of touch with the opinions of the majority of Virginians,” said JM Pedini, Development Director for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) and Executive Director of Virginia NORML.
In 2021, just one day after Virginia’s legalization law took effect, the Youngkin campaign tweeted “Glenn Youngkin will not seek to repeal [the law.]”
"The vast majority of Virginians support legal cannabis, but extreme Republicans are determined to make it illegal again. Yet another example of how Glenn Youngkin and the GOP are out of touch with Virginia," tweeted Terry McAuliffe on July 1, 2021.
The following day, Team Youngkin - Spirit of Virginia replied to McAuliffe's tweet: "False. Glenn Youngkin will not seek to repeal it; his focus will be on building a rip-roaring economy with more jobs and better wages, restoring excellence in education, and reestablishing Virginia's commitment to public safety."
Adult-use cannabis market
“This administration has made no effort to establish a legal adult-use cannabis market or to ensure that all cannabis products sold in the commonwealth are accurately labeled and regulated for consumer safety,” said Pedini.
During the April veto session, Youngkin attempted to recriminalize activities involving the possession of two ounces of marijuana by adults via the enactment of an amendment to SB 591, according to Virginia NORML's website. That effort failed with the Senate of Virginia’s refusal to advance the amendment, said NORML.
“There appears to be a fundamental lack of understanding by budget conferees and the Youngkin administration of existing marijuana laws,” said Pedini. “If the intent of these new misdemeanors were to prevent possession of higher quantities of cannabis in public as a way to reduce illicit transactions, then they ought to have known that distribution of and possession with intent to distribute marijuana in any amount is already prohibited by multiple Code sections. Penalties for such infractions are already codified."
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During the 2022 Virginia General Assembly, Republican members of the House General Laws Subcommittee halted any further advancement of Senate-backed legislation, SB 391, that sought to initiate retail marijuana sales to adults beginning this September.
“Even more problematic is that the 4-ounce possession limit is for ‘marijuana,’ the definition of which includes cannabis flower, seeds, concentrates and edibles," said Pedini. "Until the Cannabis Control Authority Board of Directors is able to promulgate the equivalent possession amounts for edible and other extraction-based formulations, Virginians can quickly run afoul of this new law by possessing edible cannabis products outside of their homes.”
In stark contrast to recriminalization, Virginia NORML advocated for policies that would have a positive impact on responsible consumers and public safety, the release said. Language included in the budget clarified that possession of cannabis in one’s residence for personal use is not subject to penalty and eliminates multiple Class 6 felonies related to personal cultivation — failing to tag plants, shield them from public view, or prevent access by those under 21. Such minor personal cultivation infractions are now subject to no more than a $25 civil penalty.
Additional budget language also prohibits the retail sale of any product containing THC that is ingestible “orally or by inhalation” to those under 21 and prohibits packaging products to look like other famous brands.
“The approved consumer safety language requires only the most basic level of testing and consumer information for the otherwise unregulated products flooding the market. It also maintains existing loopholes for synthetic marijuana and high-THC products to be sold at retail and wholesale outside of the strict regulatory oversight currently required for legal cannabis products produced in Virginia,” said Pedini.
“Virginia has, by legislating through the budget, legalized retail marijuana, we are just going to call it ‘hemp,’” Delegate Dawn Adams, who spoke against the budget language, told Virginia NORML. “All tetrahydrocannabinols — not just delta-9 THC, but delta-8 THC and other synthetics — with the stroke of Governor Youngkin’s pen will be legal in Virginia as long as it is labeled ‘hemp,’” said Adams, a nurse practitioner with expertise in cannabis medicine.
Delta-8 THC now considered adulterant
A statement released on June 30 by the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS) and the Office of the Attorney General indicates that synthetic cannabinoids will now be considered adulterants when added to food products.
“VDACS’ Food Safety Program will distribute a communication to Virginia food manufacturers, retail food establishments, and registered industrial hemp processors advising that all products intended for human consumption are considered food or drink and must meet the requirements of the Virginia Food and Drink Law. Any chemically-synthesized cannabinoid is considered a food adulterant and any person who manufactures, sells, or offers for sale a chemically-synthesized cannabinoid as a food or beverage is in violation of the Virginia Food and Drink Law.
"VDACS’ communication will advise that any chemically-synthesized cannabinoid is a food adulterant and any person who manufactures, sells, or offers for sale a chemically-synthesized cannabinoid, including delta-8 THC, as a food or beverage is in violation of the Virginia Food and Drink Law.”
Social justice reporter Monique Calello (she/her/hers) can be reached at email@example.com.
This article originally appeared on Staunton News Leader: Virginia marijuana laws are changing. Here's what you need to know.