A Cannabis Legalization Bill Has Dropped in Virginia. But It’s Unlikely to Be the One to Cross the Finish Line.

The race is on to see which state will be the next to legalize cannabis, and Virginia is among the most likely. 

Lawmakers in several states have kicked off their legislative sessions with legalization bills, and Virginia Rep. Steve Heretick did the same this week with HB 1815. The bill’s introduction follows Governor Ralph Northam’s calls for legalization last month, as he unveiled his budget. 

At the time, Northam said, “We know that laws to ban marijuana historically were based in discrimination, and criminalization laws have disproportionately harmed minority communities. Virginia has studied the experience of other states—including taxation, banking, criminal justice, licensing, and regulation. Our path forward will lead with social equity, public health, and public safety. This session is the time to get this done.”

Virginia has been on a steady path toward legalization since 2019, when state Attorney General Mark Herring pushed for decriminalization with an eye toward adult use. In 2020, Gov. Northam signed decriminalization legislation, and a cannabis legalization work group conducted a study on full legalization, including sales. By year’s end, as the work group’s recommendations were published, in a nearly 500-page Marijuana Legalization Report, Northam called on lawmakers to legalize cannabis in 2021.

But Heretick’s bill makes no mention of equity, which has been a priority for both Herring and Northam. 

Heretick’s bill would legalize and regulate cannabis cultivation (including home cultivation), product manufacturing, testing, and retail under the Board of Agriculture and Consumer Services. Of the tax revenue generated, 67 percent would go into a general fund, while 33 percent would go into a “Retail Marijuana Education Support Fund,” which would be “solely for purposes of public education.” 

Another bill is in the works, according to NORML Development Director Jenn Michelle Pedini, who also serves as the executive director of Virginia NORML. Pedini said that Virginia is “without a doubt the most prepared state when it comes to undertaking a legislative effort to legalize the responsible use of cannabis by adults.” 

According to Pedini, “forthcoming Senate and House bills will center equity, public, and consumer safety, and begin restoring justice for those impacted by the Commonwealth’s decades of marijuana criminalization.”

One potential hurdle, despite years of preparation? Time. 

“With a short 30-day General Assembly session, the Virginia legislature must act swiftly,” Pedini said. “Virginia NORML looks forward to continuing our work with Governor Northam, Attorney General Mark Herring, and legislators like Delegate Heretick to get the job done right.”

Heretick did not respond to Cannabis Wire’s request for an interview by time of publication.

More A Cannabis Legalization Bill Has Dropped in Virginia. But It’s Unlikely to Be the One to Cross the Finish Line.