Cannabis in Virginia is illegal for all purposes, and possession of even small amounts is a criminal misdemeanor, but per possession of less than 1 ounce of cannabis in Virginia carries the presumption of personal use.[1] Per 2015 law possession of CBD oil or THC-A oil entails an affirmative defense for patients who have a doctor's recommendation for those substances to treat severe epilepsy. Legislation passed in 2019 allows doses to contain up to 10 mg of THC.[2][3]

In September 2018 the Virginia State Board of Pharmacy approved the applications for five companies to open medical cannabis dispensaries across the Commonwealth.[4][5] As of April 2019 only 251 of the 35,404 doctors licensed to practice in Virginia had registered with the state to write medical cannabis recommendations.[6]

In April 2020 Virginia Governor Ralph Northam approved a bill to decriminalize simple marijuana possession, which took effect July 1.

The first medical dispensary opened in August 2020, with three others slated to open before the end of the year.[7]


A first offense is an unclassified Misdemeanor, with a maximum penalty is 30 days in jail and a $500 fine (or both), and loss of driving privileges. However with a change in the law as of July 1, 2017, the loss of driving privileges is now optional for adults (depending upon the judge's discretion) while still mandatory for juveniles.[8] A subsequent offense is a Class 1 misdemeanor, with a maximum penalty of 12 months in confinement and a $2,500 fine (or both), plus loss of driving privileges. A first-offense will qualify for a deferred disposition resulting in dismissal. This option requires a drug assessment, classes, community service, and loss of driving privileges for six months. The first-offender program is controversial, because it can affect immigration status and does not allow the defendant to qualify for expungement, and as a result, remains on the individual's record for life.[9][10]

Virginia General Assembly tightened the laws on cannabis and added a provision allowing its use and distribution for cancer and glaucoma.[11] There is currently a provision in the law, § 18.2-251, which allows a case to be dismissed if the offender goes through probation and treatment.[12] In the 1990s, Virginia had some of the lightest penalties for cultivation in the United States; cultivation of any amount for personal use counted as simple possession (otherwise it carried felony penalties of up to 35 years imprisonment). Possession is currently an unclassified misdemeanor punishable by a $25 fine.[13]

1979 medical regulation[edit]

In 1979, Virginia passed legislation allowing doctors to recommend cannabis for glaucoma or the side effects of chemotherapy.[14][15] In 1997, repeal of the medical cannabis law seemed certain,[15] but this did not actually happen. For many years, though, the medical cannabis law was non-functioning[16] because prescriptions were disallowed by federal law, given cannabis's status under the Controlled Substances Act as a Schedule I controlled substance with no accepted medical use.

2015 failed attempt to decriminalize[edit]

In 2015, the Virginia Senate's Courts of Justice committee rejected bills to decriminalize cannabis[17] and remove the smoke a joint, lose your license provision in the Virginia Code.[18]

2015 affirmative defense law for CBD and THC-A oils[edit]

In March 2015, Governor Terry McAuliffe signed House Bill 1445 and Senate Bill 1235, creating affirmative defense against a possession charge that cannabidiol oil (also known as CBD) and THC-A oil were for treatment of epilepsy.[19][20][21] The bill had passed Virginia's Senate with a vote of 37–1 in February.[22][23]

2020 reform measures[edit]

Following the 2019 Virginia elections, in which Democrats won control of both houses of the General Assembly, Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring called for cannabis to be eventually legalized; he scheduled a Cannabis Summit for December 2019 to address the issues of decriminalization of marijuana, social equity, regulating CBD and hemp products, and pathways towards legalization through legislative efforts.[24][25]

In February 2020 the House of Delegates voted 64–34 in favor of Delegate Charniele Herring's HB972 to decriminalize personal possession of marijuana.[26] The next day the Senate voted 27–13 in favor of Senator Adam Ebbin's SB 2 with a similar decriminalization scope.[27] Virginia is expected to become the 27th state to remove the threat of jail time for low-level marijuana possession.[28] On March 8, 2020, the Virginia House of Delegates and Senate passed legislation on a marijuana decriminalization plan.[29] In April 2020, this bill to decriminalize simple marijuana possession was approved by Virginia Governor Ralph Northam, and the bill will take effect July 1.[30]

As part of HB 972, which was signed by Governor Ralph Northam on May 21, 2020, four members of the Governor’s Cabinet (the Secretaries of Agriculture and Forestry, Finance, Health and Human Resources, and Public Safety and Homeland Security) were chosen to lead a group of government officials, policy experts, healthcare professionals, and community leaders that would examine the effects of legalizing the sale and personal use of marijuana in Virginia. The group was told to submit a report by November 30, 2020.[31]

A report by JLARC or the Joint Legislative Audit & Review Commission found that the retail sales from a legal marijuana market would produce substantially more revenue than the associated state costs. The report found that the state of Virginia would spend approximately $10-$16 million annually on a state regulatory agency, public health programs, and social equity programs.[32] Additionally, the retail sales of marijuana would likely begin in as little as two years. Before this time the state could raise several millions of dollars in licensing fees that would likely offset the majority of the cost.[32] After the retail sales of marijuana began, the sales tax from the sales would likely offset the remaining cost of legalization. If the sales tax was set to 25 percent, the estimated net tax revenue would be between $177-$300 million after operatorial costs.[32]

On November 16, 2020, Governor Northam announced that he would introduce and support legislation to legalize marijuana in the Commonwealth of Virginia.[33] Governor Northam stated that the proposed legislation would need to addresses five different areas of concern, those include: social equity, racial equity, and economic equity, public health, protections for young people, upholding the Virginia Indoor Clean Air Act, and data collection.[33]

Other bills in the General Assembly addressing legalization of simple possession, including Lee J. Carter's HB 87[34] and Steve Heretick's HB 269,[35] have been deferred to the 2021 session.


  1. ^ Lopez, German (13 April 2020). "Virginia just decriminalized marijuana". Vox.
  2. ^ Tabackman, Lia (March 27, 2019). "Here's what you need to know about Virginia's new Medical Cannabis program". WTVR-TV. Retrieved April 14, 2020.
  3. ^ "Virginia lawmakers allow medical marijuana to be dispensed in lollipops and lozenges". Lawmakers also better defined dosages to reflect that a dose must contain at least 5 milligrams of CBD or THCA and may contain up to 10 milligrams of THC.
  4. ^ McCloskey, Sara (September 26, 2018). "Medical marijuana dispensaries picked by state board, what does that mean for patients?". WRIC-TV. Retrieved April 14, 2020.
  5. ^ Thorson, Alex (November 22, 2019). "Supporters, critics address marijuana decriminalization in Virginia". WRIC-TV. Retrieved April 14, 2020.
  6. ^ Oliver, Ned; O'Connor, Katie (April 14, 2019). "Most doctors are steering clear of Virginia's medical marijuana program". Virginia Mercury. Retrieved April 14, 2020.
  7. ^ Coghill, Arianna (2020-08-10). "The First Medical Marijuana Dispensary in Virginia Opens This Month". Dogwood. Retrieved 2021-01-06.
  8. ^ Drive On: New Virginia law changes punishment for marijuana possession, Drive On: New Virginia law changes punishment for marijuana possession
  9. ^ Nolan, Jim (3 December 2015). "McDougle: Expunge first-time pot, alcohol possession convictions for under-21 offenders". Richmond Times-Dispatch. Retrieved 10 December 2017.
  10. ^ Weiner, Rachel (10 March 2017). "Get caught with pot, don't go to jail: Why not everyone is happy". The Washington Post. Retrieved 10 December 2017.
  11. ^ Panel Backs Marijuana, Heroin Ban, Tyler Whitley, Richmond Times-Dispatch, 27 Jan 1998.
  12. ^ § 18.2-251, Code of Virginia.
  13. ^ § 18.2-250.1. Possession of marijuana unlawful, Code of Virginia.
  14. ^ James A. Inciardi; Lana D. Harrison (11 October 1999). Harm Reduction: National and International Perspectives. SAGE. pp. 84–. ISBN 978-0-7619-0688-9.
  15. ^ a b "Va. finds it legalized medical marijuana Law passed in 1979 with no controversy". The Baltimore Sun. February 2, 1997. Retrieved April 14, 2020.
  16. ^ Hodes, David (October 21, 2014). "The cloudy, hazy weed renaissance". Northern Virginia Magazine. Retrieved April 14, 2020.
  17. ^ "LIS > Bill Tracking > SB686 > 2015 session". Retrieved 2015-08-26.
  18. ^ "LIS > Bill Tracking > SB1444 > 2015 session". Retrieved 2015-08-26.
  19. ^ Vozzella, Laura (2012-12-14). "Va. House allows marijuana oils for epilepsy". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2015-08-26.
  20. ^ "LIS > Bill Tracking > HB1445 > 2015 session". 2015-03-29. Retrieved 2015-08-26.
  21. ^ "Virginia's Medical Marijuana | Bill Deceptive". MJINews. 2015-03-03. Retrieved 2015-08-26.
  22. ^ "Marijuana extracts OK'd for epilepsy treatment in Va". 2015-02-18. Retrieved 2015-08-26.
  23. ^ "Gov. McAuliffe signs bill allowing access to medical marijuana oil". 2015-02-26. Retrieved 2015-08-26.
  24. ^ Puryear, Meghan (June 16, 2019). "Virginia AG calls for state to legalize marijuana". WVEC. Retrieved April 14, 2020.
  25. ^ Austermuhle, Martin (November 21, 2019). "Amid 'Cannabis Summit,' Pot Proponents Say Legalization In Virginia May Have To Wait". WAMU. Retrieved April 14, 2020.
  26. ^ "LIS > Bill Tracking > HB972 > 2020 session". Retrieved April 14, 2020.
  27. ^ "LIS > Bill Tracking > SB2 > 2020 session". Retrieved April 14, 2020.
  28. ^ Lopez, German (February 11, 2020). "Virginia is poised to decriminalize marijuana". Vox. Retrieved February 12, 2020.
  29. ^ Budryk, Zack (March 9, 2020). "Virginia lawmakers vote to decriminalize marijuana". The Hill. Retrieved March 12, 2020.
  30. ^ "Gov. Northam approves bill to decriminalize marijuana in Virginia". 13 April 2020. Retrieved 14 April 2020.
  31. ^ "Governor Ralph Northam - Virginia Marijuana Legalization Work Group". Retrieved 2020-12-07.
  32. ^ a b c "JLARC | Key Considerations for Marijuana Legalization". Retrieved 2020-12-07.
  33. ^ a b "Virginia Governor Ralph Northam - November". Retrieved 2020-12-07.
  34. ^ "LIS > Bill Tracking > HB87 > 2020 session". Retrieved April 14, 2020.
  35. ^ "LIS > Bill Tracking > HB269 > 2020 session". Retrieved April 14, 2020.

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