Virginia Senate Votes Against Governor’s Amendment to Criminalize Possession of Cannabis


The Virginia Senate recently sent Senate Bill 591 to the Rehabilitation and Social Services committee, and will not be considered further now that the 2022 legislative session concluded, as of March 12. A final vote was made on April 27, with a 20-20 vote, and a tie-breaker vote from Lt. Gov. Winsome Sears.

If passed, the bill would have prohibited cannabis edibles “in the shape of a human, animal, vehicle, or fruit,” as well as ban Delta-8 THC products. Additionally, the bill included penalties for anyone who was in possession of more than two ounces of cannabis.

Former Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam signed legislation to legalize cannabis in April 2021, which went into effect starting July 1, 2021. Northam ended his run as governor in January 2022, and was replaced by current Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin.

SB-591 was introduced by Senator Emmett W. Hanger, Jr. which initially received support, especially in relation to preventing cannabis edibles from being appealing to children. “It was the right thing to do,” supporter Senator Adam Ebbin said about the bill’s original text.

However, ARLnow reported that when the bill was sent to Youngkin’s desk for a signature, he sent it back with numerous amendments that altered the bill’s regulations regarding CBD, Delta-8 THC products and adding penalties for possession over the legal limit. “The governor’s amendments were ill-constructed, poorly thought out, and left lots of loopholes,” Ebbin said. “The original bill was better.”

“The government’s proposed penalties for personal possession of two ounces of marijuana were more punitive than the laws that were in place prior to Virginia’s enactment of decriminalization in 2020,” he added.

Ebbin’s own bill, Senate Bill 391, was also proposed in the 2022 legislative session, and was passed in the Senate but did not pass in the House. His bill opened up regulations for current medical cannabis dispensaries to begin selling recreational cannabis. He’s also the chair of the Cannabis Oversight Commission, which will review both SB-591 and SB-391 for discussion in 2023.

“I’ve learned not to be overly optimistic in this field,” Ebbin said. “This is a product that’s now legal for adults 21 and older. So, it’s in our best interest to make sure this is a tested, regulated product.”

NORML’s Development Director and the Executive Director of Virginia NORML, JM Pedini, shared in a statement that he is glad that SB-519 wasn’t passed with its current amendments, but disappointed that Virginia regulation will have to wait another year to be discussed. His statement also suggested that the governor “should actually serve his constituents” with the implementation of strong regulations for the cannabis industry.

“Sending SB-591 back to the Senate Rehabilitation and Social Services committee is not in the interest of public health or safety,” Pedini said. “By failing to take legislative action, unregulated products containing synthetically-derived THC will continue to be sold at retail and wholesale outside of the strict regulatory oversight currently required for legally produced cannabis products. Consumers deserve to know what they’re purchasing, and far too often what’s on the label is not what’s in the package when it comes to unregulated products.”

Youngkin recently took action on medical cannabis in April, and signed legislation that no longer requires medical cannabis patients to register with the Virginia Board of Pharmacy when they are certified by a medical provider.

NORML shared that the state is home to more than 47,000 medical cannabis patients, with an estimated 8,000 waiting to be approved. “These legislative improvements will bring great relief to the thousands of Virginians waiting to access the medical cannabis program,” said Pedini. “We hear from dozens of Virginians each week who are struggling with the registration process and frustrated by the 60-day wait to receive their approval from the Board of Pharmacy.”


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