Written By: Lorenzo T. Holmes & Zach Champ
Edited By: Zach Champ
WHY VIRGINIA'S LAWS NEED TO CHANGE
Virginia’s old and outdated laws have done more harm than good for the Commonwealth of Virginia!
The prohibition on cannabis has ruined numerous lives and created criminals out of innocent, hard-working individuals.
Even worse, Virginia’s marijuana laws have disproportionately affected black Virginians and people of color over other demographics arguably making them racially prejudice.
The laws in Virginia simply doesn’t make sense in the context of a larger push towards federal legalization.
Currently, there are 11 states where recreational and medicinal marijuana is legal and 20 states where only medicinal marijuana is legal. 15 states have decriminalized cannabis, with the majority of these states making simple possession comparable in cost and punishment to that of a traffic ticket.
The prohibition on marijuana has not only been costly but carelessly wastes valuable law enforcement resources that could be applied towards more productive and truly crime reducing efforts.
Instead of chasing low hanging fruit and filling our local jails with non-violent offenders, law enforcement can focus on more serious issues like hard drugs (opiates/pills), organized and white-collar crime, corruption, and other significant issues relevant to stopping crime and promoting public safety.
WHAT ARE THE CURRENT LAWS ABOUT MARIJUANA IN VIRGINIA?
For a long time, marijuana for either recreational or medicinal use was outlawed in the commonwealth of Virginia.
Until only recently, being caught in possession of marijuana could result in severe legal consequences including imprisonment and suspension of driving privileges.
However, the past few years have seen hopeful changes that indicate that the Commonwealth of Virginia is finally starting to come to its senses about marijuana!
As early as 1979, Virginia had passed laws establishing the prescribed use of medical marijuana for helping with the effects of chemotherapy or for the treatment Glaucoma.
Governor Terry McAuliffe signed two laws in 2015 (House Bill 1445 & Senate Bill 1235) allowing affirmative defense for qualified epileptic patients in possession of CBD or THC-A oils. Both laws essentially granted legal immunity to patients who relied on these life-saving products.
As of March 2020, the Virginia Assembly met to discuss decriminalization through passing Senate Bill 2.
If Senate Bill 2 is signed into law by the Governor, this new policy would make possession of less then an ounce of marijuana a civil penalty punishable by a simple $25 fine. (Update: Senate Bill 2 was signed into law on March 18th, 2020!)
Virginia is most likely to be the next state to decriminalize Marijuana paving a future path towards widespread legality and commercial cultivation of the crop!
Hemp has historically been cultivated in Virginia and other parts of the South for centuries. Even our great American Patriarch, George Washington, grew hemp on his farm in Mount Vernon!
Just what exactly is Hemp? Hemp is a cousin of the Cannabis plant that contains little to no THC and is used primarily for its fiber which can be produced into a variety of products include textiles, cordage, and even as food.
In 2014, the Federal Government authorized the passage of the Farm Bill Law which allowed state universities research into growing hemp, as long as the plants didn’t exceed 0.3% THC concentrations.
As a result, several universities in Virginia including Virginia Poly-technical Institute, the University of Virginia, James Madison University, Virginia State University, all began their own independent agricultural research programs into the growth of Hemp.
Senate Bill 247, which was passed into law in 2018, authorized local farmers to participate in Virginia Hemp research and cultivation without needing to be partnered with a University program.
In 2018 Industrial Hemp Grower Registrations authorized growing hemp in 55 Virginia localities. Last year alone close to 135 acres of Hemp were grown in Virginia!
Hemp is truly the wondrous super plant, and it can be a key to rebuilding Virginia’s agricultural sector into a strong and robust industry!
VIRGINIA & CBD
In 2018, Virginia’s Governor Ralph Northam signed into law a new policy regarding the scope and scale of the state’s medical-marijuana program. This new law expanded what constituted a ‘qualifying condition’ for a CBD prescription.
Before the law, only patients with epilepsy were eligible for CBD / THC-A prescription, but with the new legislation, any diagnosable medical condition would be permitted.
For the first time in Virginia history, CBD was now legally accessible to thousands of Virginians across the state who could benefit from the potent medicinal qualities of Cannabis and Marijuana!
The law allowed for these products to be made available in several forms including drops/tinctures, edible products like lollipops and gummies, as well as raw CBD flower buds.
There are currently 5 state-sponsored facilities that manufacture and distribute medical cannabis products in compliance with Virginia’s medical marijuana laws.
HOW DO I BECOME A MEDICAL MARIJUANA PATIENT IN VIRGINIA?
Virginia does not have a recognized medical program like other states.
Rather, Virginia created laws which allowed specific patients ‘affirmative defense’ in the circumstance that they were caught in possession of medical cannabis oils.
Affirmative Defense simply provides legal protections to these patients, without establishing legalization. Therefore individuals could still be prosecuted for possessing medical cannabis oils if they did not have a valid prescription or qualifying medical condition.
As mentioned earlier, the good news is that Virginia has recently made moves towards decriminalizing possession of Cannabis within the State.
Once this proposed bill is signed into law by the Governor of Virginia, possessing marijuana will no longer be a misdemeanor but a simple civil penalty akin to a traffic citation. This will make medical marijuana products more accessible and will make the need for an affirmative defense law redundant.
In addition, the Virginia Assembly revisited the issue of medical marijuana in 2016 and 2017, requiring the state Board of Pharmacy to develop a regulatory model resembling Connecticut’s medical marijuana program.
This resulted in amendments to earlier laws, permitting limited cannabis cultivation and distribution through state-certified ‘pharmaceutical processors’. As of today, there are only 5 of these state-certified facilities located throughout the Commonwealth of Virginia.
Initially, Virginia law only allowed patients suffering from epilepsy and other life-threatening conditions to use medical marijuana products. Governor Northam updated this policy in 2018 with the well-received “Let Doctor’s Decide” Bill which allowed Virginia Physicians to prescribe medical cannabis products to any patients in need, regardless of their underlying health condition.
Overnight, medical marijuana (CBD or THC >10mg) became available to any Virginian who had a prescription from their doctor!
Virginia is well on it’s way to widespread legalization of Cannabis, and we will likely see a commercial recreational and medicinal market here in the Commonwealth within the next few years, if not sooner!
FURTHER READING & REFERENCES:
If you want more information about Virginia’s Marijuana Laws then check out the useful resources linked below!