Virginia Governor Proposes Expediting Cannabis Legalization

Governor Ralph Northam [D] wants to speed up cannabis legalization in Virginia.

Last week, Governor Northam proposed legalizing cannabis possession by July 1, 2021, three years ahead of schedule.

Northam also proposed advancements to public health protections, expectations for labor protections in the cannabis industry, and the sealing of criminal records.

Amendments to Senate Bill 1406 and House Bill 2312 detail the proposed changes.

SB 1406 is sponsored by Senators Adam Ebbin [D-30] and Louise Lucas [D-18], and HB 2312 is sponsored by Majority Leader Charniele Herring [D-46].

Ebbin says that he and his colleagues have worked closely with Governor Northam to ensure the legislation prioritizes public health and social equity.

In 2020, Northam approved legislation to decriminalize cannabis possession and reduce penalties.

“Our Commonwealth is committed to legalizing marijuana in an equitable way,” says Governor Northam. “Virginia will become the 16th state to legalize marijuana-and these changes will ensure we do it with a focus on public safety, public health, and social justice. I am grateful to the advocates and legislators for their dedicated work on this important issue, and I look forward to this legislation passing next month.”

One of Governor Northam’s proposed budget amendments would fund a public awareness campaign on potential risks of using cannabis, and the other would fund law enforcement training on recognizing drugged driving.

A press release states that the amendments include explicit language “directing ongoing support for public health education.”

Amendment Provisions

Governor Northam’s amendments allow the new Cannabis Control Authority (CCA) to revoke business licenses from companies that try to interfere with unionization efforts or classify more than ten percent of employees as independent contractors.

The CCA would also be able to revoke licenses of companies that fail to pay the United States Department of Labor-defined prevailing wage.

In addition to legalizing cannabis, the amendments would allow for the sealing and expungement of previous cannabis offenses as soon as state agencies are able.

Legislation passed this year by the General Assembly would implement comprehensive expungement reform, the majority of which would go into effect on July 1, 2025.

According to the Governor’s Office, the changes require updating state agency computer systems and processes, facilitated by funding in Northam’s introduced budget.

Home cultivation of up to four plants would be permitted by July 1, 2021, under Northam’s changes.

Households would be required to label plants with identifying information, keep the plants out of public view, and prevent underage access.

Governor Northam says that racial disparity in cannabis arrests prompted his proposal to step up cannabis legalization to 2021.

According to a November 2020 report by the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission (JLARC), black Virginians were more than three times as likely to be arrested for cannabis possession.

The Governor’s Office says that the trend has continued even after decriminalization.

The current punishment for cannabis possession is a $25 civil fine.

“The Governor’s amendments are another step towards ending the targeting of minority communies over marijuana-related offenses and enacting a framework for the legal sale and use of cannabis,” says Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn. “I’m grateful to Governor Northam, my colleagues, and all the advocates who worked so hard on this important legislation.”


  1. Brian Kelly April 6, 2021
    • Benjie Cooper April 6, 2021