Virginia could become the first state in the South to decriminalize adult use of cannabis. 

Two bills legalizing adult possession of cannabis and creating a structure for the cultivation, testing, sale and tax of cannabis products in Virginia were approved by the House of Delegates and Senate last week. 

The two bills, SB 1406 and HB 2312, differ slightly, but both create an agency to regulate cannabis, create a tax structure for cannabis products sold in Virginia and create programs and funds to “support persons, families, and communities historically and disproportionately targeted and affected by drug enforcement.”

Both bills create a 21 percent tax on cannabis sales and the option for local governments to create a local tax of up to 3 percent on cannabis sales. 

The bills would also expunge certain cannabis-related convictions.

Last year, Gov. Ralph Northam signed a bill decriminalizing simple possession of up to one ounce of cannabis. That law went into effect on July 1, 2020. 

In a statement issued in November, Northam expressed his support for legalizing adult use of cannabis in Virginia. 

“It’s time to legalize marijuana in Virginia,” Northam said in the statement. “Our Commonwealth has an opportunity to be the first state in the South to take this step, and we will lead with a focus on equity, public health, and public safety. I look forward to working with the General Assembly to get this right.”

The Senate referred HB 2312 to the Committee on Rehabilitation and Social Services, which continued the bill to the special session. 

The House referred SB 1406 to the Committee on General Laws, which continued the bill to the special session. The special session is set to begin at the end of the general session, which ends Feb. 27.

Virginia’s first medical cannabis oil dispensary opened in October 2020. Under state law, Virginia doctors can prescribe cannabis oil for treatment of certain conditions. The oils can contain no more than 10 percent delta-9 THC. 

Kentucky, Alabama and South Carolina are considering medical cannabis bills this session. In November, Mississippi became the 36th state to create a medical cannabis program. Click here to read more about Mississippi’s medical cannabis program.