A slew of state legislation went into effect on July 1 in Virginia, including new laws governing cannabis possession, capital punishment, public carrying of weapons, and littering, among others. The most headline-grabbing of these is the cannabis law, which permits residents 21 and older to possess up to one ounce of marijuana (without intent to sell) and to grow up to four marijuana plants in their homes. Possession of more than an ounce but less than a pound carries a $25 penalty, and more than a pound is a felony with a 10-year sentence and a $250,000 fine.
Under the new law, adults are permitted to smoke marijuana inside private residences but not in public, and while in a moving vehicle it may only be carried in the passenger area in “the originally sealed manufacturer’s container.” However, both this restriction and the grow-your-own plants prerogative present a conundrum, as no part of the marijuana plant, including seeds or flowers, will be legal to buy or sell until January of 2024. Adults may “share” cannabis, but may not “gift” it in tandem with another retail item as a way to get around the rule.
In anticipation of a legalized market for marijuana on the horizon, Virginia hemp growers are considering their options for expansion. While many people think of cannabis and marijuana as synonymous terms, cannabis is actually a large plant genus that encompasses both psychoactive marijuana and hemp—a versatile plant that can be used to make products from textiles to biofuels and whose seeds and oil are used in skin care products and non-intoxicating edible infusions. The defining line between the two cannabis varieties is the precise level of the toxicant THC present in the plant, which must be 0.3% or less for hemp.
White Hall-based Albemarle Hemp Company, founded in 2019 by Leigh Anne and Joe Kuhn, recently changed its name to Albemarle Cannabis Company (ACC), in part to combat the stigma associated with the word cannabis, and in part with an eye toward the future. “We’d like to see if we can expand our repertoire to include marijuana cannabis in the future, but there’s still a lot of uncertainty,” said Leigh Anne Kuhn. “We are waiting for the concrete definitions of how this is going to work for companies like ours, but we know the process will involve a lot of red tape and expensive permitting.”
ACC works with a vertically integrated supply chain of local growers and farmers to produce items such as CBD gummies, dog treats, and bubble bath. Kuhn says that the company intends to participate in the marijuana market when it is legalized but is remaining fluid in its plans, and that maintaining professionalism and integrity is crucial in both their current and future cannabis ventures.
“People still think of ‘Cheech and Chong’ when they think of marijuana cannabis, which is really an inaccurate image that we’re trying to change,” said Kuhn. “I’m hoping to work closely with, if not directly on, one or more of the regulatory boards that will be formed to guide sales. My understanding is that their target is to reinvest 30 percent of the tax profits into local communities, which I would love to see.”
Other new Virginia laws include:
- Two that affect bicyclists—one allows two cyclists to ride abreast in one traffic lane, and another requires that vehicles must change lanes to pass a cyclist if the driver cannot allow at least a three-foot clearance when passing (also applies for people riding on mopeds, animals, or animal-drawn vehicles);
- An increased fine for littering—from $250 to $500;
- A prohibition on the release of non-biodegradable balloons, with a fine of $25 per balloon;
- An extension of the pandemic-era right of restaurants to sell “to-go” cocktails for another year, now set to expire in July of 2022;
- A provision that absentee ballots will no longer require a witness signature, and a requirement that localities must offer drop-off locations for absentee ballots and curbside options for those with a disability or injury;
- An end to the death penalty in Virginia, which had conducted the second-most executions in the U.S. since 1976 (after Texas);
- A ban on firearms within Capitol Square (in Richmond) or in any building owned or leased by the state, or within 40 feet of a polling place; a separate law allows school boards to designate any building or property they own or lease as gun-free zones;
- A mandate that each school district must offer full-time, in-person instruction beginning this fall, and a requirement that all teachers and other licensed employees undergo “cultural competency training” at least every two years;
- A ban on “skill games,” the skill-based, slot-machine-type devices found in convenience stores, truck stops, and bars.