Is Cannabis Legal in Virginia?
Virginia allows for medical marijuana for those with qualifying conditions. Virginia marijuana laws include the passage of one of the country’s first medical marijuana laws in 1979. The law was a provision in the state’s criminal code stating that a person would not be prosecuted for possession of marijuana in Virginia if he or she had a valid prescription from a doctor for using cannabis to treat the symptoms of glaucoma or the side effects of chemotherapy. However, physicians could not legally issue prescriptions under Virginia marijuana laws due to the term “prescribe” applying only to FDA-regulated substances. Virginia marijuana legalization for recreational purposes has not yet occurred, but in recent years the state has passed laws allowing greater access to medical cannabis.
Medical marijuana laws in Virginia have undergone changes in the past several years. In 2015, the Virginia General Assembly allowed patients suffering from intractable epilepsy and their caregivers an affirmative defense for possession of medical cannabis oils. After receiving a certificate from their physician, patients could register with the state Board of Pharmacy to be protected from prosecution if they are charged with possessing the oils. This action is known as an “affirmative defense” model.
Virginia’s medical cannabis law does not legalize possession of cannabis, but instead provides an affirmative defense if a registered patient is charged with possession. Patients must submit the signed affirmative defense certificates in Virginia courts 10 days before trial when facing possession charges. The affirmative defense applies to extraction-based cannabis only, not cannabis flower.
In 2016, the General Assembly required the state Board of Pharmacy to draft a regulatory model for medical cannabis patterned after Connecticut’s.
In 2017, the General Assembly revisited and approved that bill, allowing limited cannabis cultivation and dispensation, and permitted patients diagnosed with intractable epilepsy access to cannabidiol (CBD) or THCA oil. Virginia approved regulations to award in-state production of medical cannabis oils by five “pharmaceutical processors,” vertically integrated companies that grow, extract, dispense and deliver medical cannabis products. Those initial five firms are located in each of the state’s Health Service Areas (HSA).
In 2018, Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam signed the Let Doctors Decide bill expanding access to all Virginians by allowing physicians to recommend whether their patients can benefit from and qualify for medical marijuana. There is no longer a specific list of medical conditions conferring eligibility for medical marijuana. The law went into effect on March 9, 2018, the date of the signing.
On July 1, 2019, legislation passed allowing nurse practitioners and physician assistants to issue written certifications for patients to use medical cannabis extracts. Legislation also took effect allowing medical cannabis products to be administered to registered student patients by school health-care providers, as with any other legal medicine. It provided registered patients the ability to appoint a registered agent to pick up their medical cannabis.
The General Assembly also clarified that medical cannabis products may be dispensed in a wide variety of formulations, not just oil, and that each dose may contain up to 10 milligrams of THC.
The Virginia Board of Pharmacy regulates cannabis products for medicinal use only within the state. The board operates under the state’s Department of Health Professions of the Virginia Department of Health.
to Be to Consume?
- There is no age limit to qualify for registration to access medical cannabis. If a patient younger than 18 has a physician’s certification, is registered with the Board of Pharmacy, and possesses a state-issued certificate, he or she can consume the state-allowed medical cannabis products recommended.
- Possession and consumption are restricted to registered Virginia patients.
- Registered patients may possess up to a 90-day supply.
- There are no specified eligible conditions qualifying for medical cannabis registration. Health providers can recommend medical cannabis for any diagnosed condition at their discretion.
- Adult recreational use of cannabis is prohibited and remains illegal.
- Gifting of any cannabis products is illegal.
- Medical cannabis products may be purchased through five state-licensed dispensaries called pharmaceutical processors.
- Medical cannabis products are considered medicines and Virginia does not tax medicine.
Adult recreational use of cannabis is illegal in Virginia. Only registered patients may access medical cannabis products. Possessing, consuming, or selling cannabis flower, hashish or cannabis extracts is illegal. Only registered patients, caregivers, and agents may assert the affirmative defense for possession. Only licensed pharmaceutical processors may assert the affirmative defense for manufacturing and/or distribution.
Patients and, if they are minors or incapacitated adults, their parent or legal guardian must receive written certifications by registered practitioners prior to applying for registration with the Board of Pharmacy. To find providers who are registered to recommend medical cannabis, patients can look up qualified professionals and register with the Department of Health Professions.
To register, patients pay a $50 annual fee. If a resident has a child who is qualified by a physician, the parent or legal guardian must register as well. Children cannot go into the five state dispensaries to purchase medical cannabis. The certification and registration are valid for one year and must be renewed annually.
Residents must prove their age, residency, and identity by scanning or faxing copies of government-issued identification cards such as drivers licenses and birth certificates and enter online their last name and Social Security number.
A minor must also offer parental identification when applying. The actual registration occurs online.
There is currently no registration reciprocity process between Virginia and other states.
The law does not allow for independent delivery services. Delivery is considered part of the licensing authority issued to each of the five pharmaceutical processors, along with cultivation, extraction, formulation, and dispensation.
Patients may appoint registered agents to pick up or receive delivery of medical cannabis on their behalf when they are physically unable to do so themselves.
Certifications should be kept with the medical cannabis products in accordance with Virginia drug laws. If driving, medical cannabis products must be kept in sealed containers out of reach to drivers or passengers in motor vehicles.
Registered medical cannabis patients cannot drive motor vehicles while impaired or face prosecution under the state’s “drugged driving” law. Each dispensed dose (or single unit of medical cannabis) must contain a minimum of 5 milligrams of CBD or 5 milligrams of THCA and up to 10 milligrams of THC. The law does not specify a limit on the number of doses comprising a patient’s dosage.
Until the pharmaceutical processors become operational, registered patients may have to go out of state to obtain medical cannabis products and bring them home, incurring legal risks. While they might face prosecution outside of Virginia, within the state the “affirmative defense” still applies if they are arrested in the commonwealth, as long as the cannabis products fall within state guidelines.
Possession of any cannabis products other than a 90-day supply of allowable medical cannabis products by anyone other than a registered patient is illegal. Possession of more than one-half ounce, or 14.2 grams, of cannabis remains a felony. Possession of one-half ounce or less, or 14.2 grams, is considered a misdemeanor punishable by a fine and up to 30 days in jail.
Laws for possession of medical cannabis products do not vary by geographic location in the state. Medical cannabis patients must carry their certificates with them to avoid arrest and prosecution.
The allowable medical cannabis products produced and sold by pharmaceutical processors may include oils, tinctures, creams, gels, capsules, tablets, troches, sprays, lozenges, patches, suppositories, and more. Patients may receive up to a 90-day supply per visit.
Because possession of marijuana violates federal law, it remains illegal to transport any cannabis products across any state lines. However, registered patients in Virginia may assert the affirmative defense to avoid prosecution if the cannabis products meet state-approved guidelines.
Publicly consuming cannabis products in public places such as airports and train stations is illegal, but not illegal for a registered patient to possess them. Patients must carry their state certificate when traveling with medical cannabis.
Smoking cannabis flower anywhere in Virginia is illegal.
Registered patients are not required to keep proof of purchase with them while traveling within Virginia, but must produce their medical cannabis certificate to avoid arrest.
Home cultivation of cannabis is prohibited and illegal. Only the five registered pharmaceutical processors may grow marijuana in Virginia.
Medical Marijuana Registry
There are no listed conditions for qualifying registered patients for medical marijuana. It is up to the discretion of the recommending physician or other qualified health-care professional.
Caregivers (parents and legal guardians) and registered agents (appointed by adult patients) must be registered to buy approved medical cannabis products on behalf of patients.
Medical and osteopathic physicians, nurse practitioners, and physician assistants must register with the Board of Pharmacy to be eligible to issue written certifications for medical cannabis to their patients. Providers must pay a $50 annual registration fee. https://www.license.dhp.virginia.gov/apply
Virginia currently has no reciprocity agreements with other states.
Third-party lab testing and product labeling are required and labs must be accredited by the state.
Products will be tested for contaminants, such as mold and pesticides. Labs will test for primary cannabinoids in the product and the number of ingredients.
Licensing for Growers, Manufacturers, Processors, Retailers, Delivery
The five authorized pharmaceutical processors are located in each of the state’s Health Service Areas (HSAs), in Staunton, Manassas, Bristol, Richmond, and Portsmouth. Prospective processors pay a $10,000 application fee. If awarded a license, they pay a $60,000 license fee and a $10,000 renewal fee annually.
Medical cannabis products are considered medicines and Virginia does not tax medicine.
Identified in the Virginia Legal Code as “pharmaceutical processors,” the companies perform all aspects of the cannabis supply chain: growing, extracting, manufacturing, dispensing, and delivery, all within Virginia. It’s illegal to import cannabis from out of state. The processors are expected to become fully operational by late 2019.
CBD and Hemp rules
Virginia, like many other states, in 2019 passed a state version of the landmark federal 2018 Farm Bill legalizing hemp, which is cannabis with less than 0.3% THC. Neither the Virginia law nor its federal companion legalize CBD or circumvents the regulatory authority of the U.S Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS) is awaiting guidance from the FDA, and the state informed licensed hemp processors that it would not approve any products intended for human consumption containing CBD. It is currently illegal to make CBD products in Virginia, though untested and unregulated CBD products produced outside of the state can be found in a variety of retail outlets.