Cannabis in Virginia is legal for medical use but illegal for recreational use.[1][2] It is however decriminalized per possession of less than 1 ounce of cannabis which in Virginia carries the presumption of personal use, carrying a $25 civil fine.[2] 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.[3][4]

In September 2018 the Virginia State Board of Pharmacy approved the applications for five companies to open medical cannabis dispensaries across the Commonwealth.[5][6] 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.[7]

In April 2020, Virginia Governor Ralph Northam approved a bill to decriminalize simple marijuana possession, which took effect July 1, 2020. The first medical dispensary opened in August 2020, with three others slated to open before the end of the year.[8]

In February 2021, both houses of Virginia's General Assembly passed legislation to fully legalize cannabis, with an effective date of 2024.[9] The bill still needs to be signed by Governor Northam.[10] The bill has received broad support, though no Republicans in either house of the state Assembly voted in favor of it.[11]


Previously in the state of Virginia, possession of cannabis as a first offense was an unclassified misdemeanor, with a maximum penalty of 30 days in jail and/or $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.[12] A subsequent offense was 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.[13][14]

Virginia General Assembly tightened the laws on cannabis and added a provision allowing its use and distribution for cancer and glaucoma.[15] 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.[16] 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.[17]

1979 medical regulation[edit]

In 1979, Virginia passed legislation allowing doctors to recommend cannabis for glaucoma or the side effects of chemotherapy.[18][19] In 1997, repeal of the medical cannabis law seemed certain,[19] but this did not actually happen. For many years, though, the medical cannabis law was non-functioning[20] 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[21] and remove the smoke a joint, lose your license provision in the Virginia Code.[22]

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.[23][24][25] The bill had passed Virginia's Senate with a vote of 37–1 in February.[26][27]

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.[28][29]

In February 2020 the House of Delegates voted 64–34 in favor of Delegate Charniele Herring's HB972 to decriminalize personal possession of marijuana.[30] The next day the Senate voted 27–13 in favor of Senator Adam Ebbin's SB 2 with a similar decriminalization scope.[31] Virginia was to become the 27th state to remove the threat of jail time for low-level marijuana possession.[32] On March 8, 2020, the Virginia House of Delegates and Senate passed legislation on a marijuana decriminalization plan.[33] In April 2020, this bill to decriminalize simple marijuana possession was approved by Virginia Governor Ralph Northam, and the bill took effect on July 1, 2020.[34] This legislation decriminalized cannabis per possession of less than 1 ounce of, which carries the presumption of personal use, carrying a $25 civil fine.[35]

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.[36]

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.[37] 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.[37] 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.[37]

On November 16, 2020, Governor Northam announced that he would introduce and support legislation to legalize marijuana in the Commonwealth of Virginia.[38] 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.[38]

Other bills in the General Assembly addressing legalization of simple possession, including Lee J. Carter's HB 87[39] and Steve Heretick's HB 269,[40] have been deferred to the 2021 session.

2021 legalization bills[edit]

In February 2021, both houses of Virginia's General Assembly passed legislation (SB 1406 and HB 2312 respectively[41]) to legalize the use and personal cultivation of cannabis by adults ages 21 and older, as well as establish a regulatory framework for commercial cannabis production, manufacturing, testing, and retail sales by 2024.[41] The legislation was passed by both chambers on February 27, 2021. To become law, the reconciled bill needs to be signed into law by Governor Northam.[10]


On January 22, Virginia SB 1406, "Marijuana; legalization of simple possession, penalties", sponsored by senators Adam Ebbin and Louise Lucas, was advanced by the state Senate Rehabilitation and Social Services Committee.[42][43] On February 3, SB 1406 and corresponding HB 2312 each were passed by the final committee prior to a floor vote in the Senate and House.[44] Both bills passed on February 5.[45][46] The house and senate bills differ in some details and are likely to be reconciled in the 2021 session, then sent to the state governor who has said he will sign into law.[47] Substitute Senate Bill 1406 was passed by the House General Laws Committee on February 11.[48] On February 16, the House passed a substitute Senate bill 55-42 and the Senate passed its bill 23-15, requiring a conference committee to resolve the differences.[49] The vote was said by regional media to ensure that cannabis can be legally purchased in Virginia in 2024, but a conference committee needed to reconcile the Senate's date for legalization of possession (July 1, 2021) and the House's 2024 legalization date.[50] The conference committee reached agreement on a bill on February 27 that will lead to legalization (including cultivation, retail sales and possession) on January 1, 2024, and the Assembly passed it the same day and sent it to Governor Northam for approval.[51]

If the law is not amended in the interim, Virginia will become the second state (after Illinois) to simultaneously legalize marijuana possession and retail sales; other states have legalized possession before the beginning of state-licensed sales. Advocates have pressured Northam to amend the legalization legislation so that possession is legalized on July 1, 2021, arguing that delaying the date of legalization perpetuates injustice.[52]


  1. ^
  2. ^ a b Lopez, German (13 April 2020). "Virginia just decriminalized marijuana". Vox.
  3. ^ 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.
  4. ^ "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.
  5. ^ McCloskey, Sara (September 26, 2018). "Medical marijuana dispensaries picked by state board, what does that mean for patients?". WRIC-TV. Retrieved April 14, 2020.
  6. ^ Thorson, Alex (November 22, 2019). "Supporters, critics address marijuana decriminalization in Virginia". WRIC-TV. Retrieved April 14, 2020.
  7. ^ 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.
  8. ^ Coghill, Arianna (2020-08-10). "The First Medical Marijuana Dispensary in Virginia Opens This Month". Dogwood. Retrieved 2021-01-06.
  9. ^
  10. ^ a b Mona Zhang (February 27, 2021). "Virginia joins 15 other states in legalizing marijuana". Politico.
  11. ^ Jaeger, Kyle (2021-03-03). "Marijuana Legalization Could Curb Opioid Crisis In West Virginia, Governor Says". Marijuana Moment. Retrieved 2021-03-06.
  12. ^ Drive On: New Virginia law changes punishment for marijuana possession, Drive On: New Virginia law changes punishment for marijuana possession
  13. ^ Nolan, Jim (3 December 2015). "McDougle: Expunge first-time pot, alcohol possession convictions for under-21 offenders". Richmond Times-Dispatch. Retrieved 10 December 2017.
  14. ^ 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.
  15. ^ Panel Backs Marijuana, Heroin Ban, Tyler Whitley, Richmond Times-Dispatch, 27 Jan 1998.
  16. ^ § 18.2-251, Code of Virginia.
  17. ^ § 18.2-250.1. Possession of marijuana unlawful, Code of Virginia.
  18. ^ James A. Inciardi; Lana D. Harrison (11 October 1999). Harm Reduction: National and International Perspectives. SAGE. pp. 84–. ISBN 978-0-7619-0688-9.
  19. ^ 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.
  20. ^ Hodes, David (October 21, 2014). "The cloudy, hazy weed renaissance". Northern Virginia Magazine. Retrieved April 14, 2020.
  21. ^ "LIS > Bill Tracking > SB686 > 2015 session". Retrieved 2015-08-26.
  22. ^ "LIS > Bill Tracking > SB1444 > 2015 session". Retrieved 2015-08-26.
  23. ^ Vozzella, Laura (2012-12-14). "Va. House allows marijuana oils for epilepsy". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2015-08-26.
  24. ^ "LIS > Bill Tracking > HB1445 > 2015 session". 2015-03-29. Retrieved 2015-08-26.
  25. ^ "Virginia's Medical Marijuana | Bill Deceptive". MJINews. 2015-03-03. Retrieved 2015-08-26.
  26. ^ "Marijuana extracts OK'd for epilepsy treatment in Va". 2015-02-18. Retrieved 2015-08-26.
  27. ^ "Gov. McAuliffe signs bill allowing access to medical marijuana oil". 2015-02-26. Retrieved 2015-08-26.
  28. ^ Puryear, Meghan (June 16, 2019). "Virginia AG calls for state to legalize marijuana". WVEC. Retrieved April 14, 2020.
  29. ^ Austermuhle, Martin (November 21, 2019). "Amid 'Cannabis Summit,' Pot Proponents Say Legalization In Virginia May Have To Wait". WAMU. Retrieved April 14, 2020.
  30. ^ "LIS > Bill Tracking > HB972 > 2020 session". Retrieved April 14, 2020.
  31. ^ "LIS > Bill Tracking > SB2 > 2020 session". Retrieved April 14, 2020.
  32. ^ Lopez, German (February 11, 2020). "Virginia is poised to decriminalize marijuana". Vox. Retrieved February 12, 2020.
  33. ^ Budryk, Zack (March 9, 2020). "Virginia lawmakers vote to decriminalize marijuana". The Hill. Retrieved March 12, 2020.
  34. ^ "Gov. Northam approves bill to decriminalize marijuana in Virginia". 13 April 2020. Retrieved 14 April 2020.
  35. ^ "Gov. Northam approves bill to decriminalize marijuana in Virginia". 13 April 2020. Retrieved 14 April 2020.
  36. ^ "Governor Ralph Northam - Virginia Marijuana Legalization Work Group". Retrieved 2020-12-07.
  37. ^ a b c "JLARC | Key Considerations for Marijuana Legalization". Retrieved 2020-12-07.
  38. ^ a b "Virginia Governor Ralph Northam - November". Retrieved 2020-12-07.
  39. ^ "LIS > Bill Tracking > HB87 > 2020 session". Retrieved April 14, 2020.
  40. ^ "LIS > Bill Tracking > HB269 > 2020 session". Retrieved April 14, 2020.
  41. ^ a b
  42. ^ Mel Leonor (January 22, 2021). "Marijuana legalization clears key Virginia Senate panel". Richmond Times-Dispatch.
  43. ^ "SB 1406 – Marijuana; legalization of simple possession, penalties (2021 session)". Virginia Legislative Information System (bill tracker). Retrieved January 24, 2021.
  44. ^ Sonny Mazzone (February 3, 2021), "Virginia's on the Verge of Legalizing Marijuana", Reason
  45. ^ Sarah Rankin and Denise Lavoie (February 5, 2021). "Virginia lawmakers pass marijuana legalization bills – Virginia lawmakers pass marijuana legalization bills: Both chambers of the Virginia General Assembly have passed legislation that would legalize marijuana for adult recreational use, with retail sales starting several years down the road". Associated Press – via WWBT Richmond.CS1 maint: uses authors parameter (link)
  46. ^ Daniel Kreps (February 6, 2021), "Virginia Lawmakers Pass Marijuana Legalization Bills – Pending Governor Ralph Northam's signature, dispensaries could open in state beginning 2024, while legalization would start as soon as this summer", Rolling Stone
  47. ^ Gregory S. Schneider and Laura Vozzella (February 5, 2021). "Virginia legislature votes to legalize marijuana, abolish the death penalty". The Washington Post.CS1 maint: uses authors parameter (link)
  48. ^ Tyler Arnold (February 11, 2021), "Virginia House committee advances substitute marijuana bill, intends conference committee", The Center Square, Franklin News Foundation
  49. ^ Tyler Arnold (February 16, 2021), "Legal marijauana bills not yet at agreement as House, Senate pass different bills again", The Center Square, Franklin News Foundation
  50. ^ Dean Mirshahi (February 17, 2021). "Virginia will legalize marijuana, but lawmakers need to settle on timetable". WRIC-TV.
  51. ^ Dean Mirshahi (February 27, 2021). "Virginia lawmakers reach agreement on marijuana legalization bill". WRIC-TV.
  52. ^ Push to end marijuana prohibition this year instead of 2024 hinges on Northam

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