Virginia Governor Northam Releases Report On Marijuana Legalization

Community-driven report reflects recommendations of the Virginia Marijuana Legalization Work Group

VIRGINIA:  Governor Ralph Northam today released the Administration’s report on the impact of legalizing adult-use marijuana in the Commonwealth of Virginia.

The report is the final product of the Virginia Marijuana Legalization Work Group, and it results from a diverse, stakeholder-driven process that involved community leaders, healthcare professionals, policy experts, and government officials. This months-long effort was a key part of marijuana decriminalization legislation passed by the General Assembly earlier this year, and follows Governor Northam’s recent announcement that he intends to advance marijuana legalization in Virginia.

“We will advance new laws to make sure that our Commonwealth legalizes marijuana the right way,” said Governor Northam. “Virginia has studied the experience of other states and this report lays out a path forward that leads with social equity, public health, and public safety.”

The comprehensive report includes nearly 400 pages of meeting minutes and outlines various aspects of marijuana legalization in the Commonwealth, including taxation, banking, criminal justice, licensing and regulation, and consumer safety. It also provides additional details on the five key principles that Governor Northam wants to see in any final legalization bill:

  • Social equity, racial equity, and economic equity. Marijuana prohibition historically has been based in discrimination, and criminalization laws have disproportionately harmed minority communities. Legislation should focus on undoing these harms by including initiatives such as social equity license programs, access to capital, community reinvestment, and sealing or expunging records of past marijuana-related convictions.
  • Public health. Legislation should include substance abuse prevention efforts in schools and communities.
  • Protections for young people. As a pediatrician, Governor Northam will require any legislation include protections for Virginia’s youth, including age limits, mandatory ID checks, and education campaigns.
  • Upholding the Virginia Indoor Clean Air Act. Legislation should be aligned with the Virginia Indoor Clean Air Act prohibiting indoor tobacco use, which Governor Northam championed as a state Senator.
  • Data collection. Legislation should ensure Virginia collects appropriate and ongoing information on safety, health, and equity.

The Virginia Marijuana Work Group consulted with dozens of subject matter experts in compiling its recommendations, including organizations focused on ensuring social and racial equity, such as the Minority Cannabis Business Association, NoLef Turns, and Decriminalize Virginia. Health experts, including public health policy consultants and practicing physicians were extensively involved, and the team worked closely with government officials from states that have already legalized marijuana, such as Washington, Massachusetts, and Illinois.

The Work Group was led by the Secretaries of Agriculture and Forestry, Finance, Health and Human Resources, and Public Safety and Homeland Security. The group held a total of 15 public meetings between July and October 2020.

The full report is available here. Additional information about the Virginia Marijuana Work Group and its membership can be found here.

Governor Northam Announces Support for Legalizing Adult-Use Marijuana in Virginia

Governor says, “The time has come to legalize marijuana in our Commonwealth, and Virginia will get this right.”

VIRGINIA:  Governor Ralph Northam today announced that he will introduce and support legislation to legalize marijuana in the Commonwealth of Virginia. The announcement comes as the Northam Administration prepares to release a report on the impact of legalizing adult-use marijuana, which was compiled with robust input from government officials, policy experts, healthcare professionals, and community leaders.

“It’s time to legalize marijuana in Virginia,” said Governor Northam. “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 Northam Administration is working closely with lawmakers to finalize legislation in advance of the 2021 General Assembly session. Today, Governor Northam made clear that any legislation to legalize adult-use marijuana will need to address the following five principles.

  • Social equity, racial equity, and economic equity. Marijuana prohibition has historically been based in discrimination, and the impact of criminalization laws have disproportionately harmed minority communities as result. A report of the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission (JLARC) issued today found that Black Virginians are arrested and convicted for marijuana use at more than three times the rate of white Virginians. Legislation should focus on undoing these harms by including initiatives such as social equity license programs, access to capital, community reinvestment, and sealing or expunging records of past marijuana-related convictions.
  • Public health. Legislation should include substance abuse prevention efforts in schools and communities.
  • Protections for young people. As a pediatrician, Governor Northam will require any legislation include protections for Virginia’s youth, including age limits, mandatory ID checks, and education campaigns.
  • Upholding the Virginia Indoor Clean Air Act. Legislation should be aligned with the Virginia Indoor Clean Air Act prohibiting indoor tobacco use, which Governor Northam championed as a state Senator.
  • Data collection. Legislation should ensure Virginia collects appropriate and ongoing information on safety, health, and equity.

In 2020, Governor Northam signed legislation that decriminalized simple marijuana possession in Virginia. The legislation also required the Secretaries of Agriculture and Forestry, Finance, Health and Human Resources, and Public Safety and Homeland Security to convene a Virginia Marijuana Legalization Work Group to study the impact on the Commonwealth of legalizing the sale and personal use of marijuana and report the recommendations of the work group to the General Assembly and the Governor by November 30, 2020.

Virginia Congressman Riggleman Sends Letter To DEA In Support Of Hemp Industry

DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA:  Congressman Denver Riggleman, along with eight of his House colleagues, sent a letter to acting Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) Administrator Timothy Shea to protect hemp producers and clarify hemp regulations due to discrepancies in the DEA Interim Final Rule (IFR).

The letter, led by Rep. David Joyce (R-OH-14), asks Administrator Shea to address the discrepancies between the 2018 Farm Bill and the DEA Interim Final Rule which was issued in August 2020. The IFR issued specific restrictions regarding hemp derived material that appears to contradict the legalization of hemp and hemp derivatives under the 2018 Farm Bill. According to the newly released IFR, provisions of the Farm Bill can result in criminal liability.

“The DEA must specify their requirements and streamline hemp directives by clarifying the legal means of processing hemp products,” said Congressman Riggleman. “The Farm Bill created new venues of business in this country, and we need to ensure that our hemp farmers have clear directives when it comes to their products.”

The 2018 Farm Bill is a critical piece of legislation that opened the door for hardworking hemp farmers by legalizing hemp and hemp derivatives so long as they contain less than 0.3% of THC on a dry weight basis. This bill has allowed states across America to start to build a new industry in hemp production, and expand their markets to CBD products and other related material. The DEA must revise the IFR to protect hemp farmers from overly harsh regulation and ensure that the hemp industry is safeguarded.

Background:

Congressman Riggleman has fought for hemp producers throughout his time in Congress. He is a lead supporter of the U.S. Domestic Hemp Production Program and has worked with USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue to expand economic opportunity for hemp farmers in the 5th District and beyond. Earlier this year he also introduced the Hemp Opportunity Zone Act which would designate certain low-income areas as “opportunity zones” and provide economic incentives to grow the hemp industry and encourage long-term investment in rural communities. The hemp industry has the potential to be a game changer for farmers in America and the 5th District can lead this effort.

Learn more about the industrial hemp industry from the USDA here. Learn about how a new hemp processing facility will strengthen the economy and bring more than 20 new jobs to South Boston, VA here.

 

Virginia Governor Northam Signs Bold New Laws To Reform Criminal Justice

House Bill 972 decriminalizes simple possession of marijuana and creates a $25 civil penalty

VIRGINIA: Governor Ralph Northam has signed into law criminal justice reform legislation that he proposed in January. The package includes measures raising the felony larceny threshold; permanently eliminating driver’s license suspensions for unpaid fines, fees, and court costs; raising the age of juvenile transfer to adult court; and reforming parole.

The Governor’s package also includes decriminalizing simple possession of marijuana and sealing the records of prior convictions. The Governor proposed that a study be completed to assess the impact of fully legalizing marijuana in the Commonwealth.

“Every Virginian deserves access to a fair and equitable criminal justice system,” said Governor Northam. “These bills combat mass incarceration, increase support for returning citizens, and ensure that those who have paid their debt to society have a meaningful second chance. I thank the General Assembly for working with us to build a more just and inclusive Commonwealth.”

Governor Northam signed the following bills:

  • House Bill 1196 and Senate Bill 1 repeal the requirement that the driver’s license of a person convicted of any violation of the law who fails or refuses to provide for immediate payment of fines or costs be suspended. The bill requires the Commissioner of the Department of Motor Vehicles to return or reinstate any person’s driver’s license that was suspended prior to July 1, 2019, solely for nonpayment of fines or costs, without a reinstatement fee.
  • House Bill 477 and Senate Bill 546 raise the age when a Commonwealth’s Attorney can transfer a juvenile to be tried as an adult without court approval from 14 to 16.
  • House Bill 909 and Senate Bill 513 end the practice of suspending driver’s licenses for non-driving related offenses, including drug offenses and theft of motor fuel.
  • House Bill 974 and Senate Bill 511 modify the current standards for writs of actual innocence. Currently, individuals may pursue writs of actual innocence under very narrow circumstances, which limits access to relief and places additional burdens on the pardon process.
  • House Bill 277 and Senate Bill 736 provide that a court may permit an inmate to earn credits against any fines and court costs imposed against him by performing community service. Under current law, credits may be earned only before or after imprisonment.

The Governor proposed two amendments:

  • House Bill 972 decriminalizes simple possession of marijuana and creates a $25 civil penalty. The bill seals the records of convictions and prohibits employers from inquiring about past convictions. The bill creates a work group to study the impact of legalization of marijuana. Governor Northam proposes to require that report by November 30, 2021.
  • House Bill 33 and Senate Bill 793, the “Fishback” bills, make individuals sentenced by juries between 1995 and 2000 eligible for parole consideration. Parole was abolished in Virginia in 1995, however juries were not instructed of this change until 2000 following a court ruling. The Governor proposes adding an “emergency clause” to the measure.

“As a lawyer, I believe in justice, and that means we must aspire to a legal system that promotes equality under the law,” said House Majority Leader Charniele Herring. “I also believe in fairness, transparency, and compassion. These new laws strengthen our criminal justice system, and I thank Governor Northam for signing them into law.”

“Virginia’s old laws often led to too many black and brown people getting harsher punishments than the majority of Virginians,” said Senator Louise Lucas. “I appreciate Governor Northam signing these new laws that will help bring equity to our criminal justice system.”

“The Governor put forward a criminal justice reform legislative package that was historic and transformative,” said Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security Brian J. Moran. “The elimination of driver’s license suspensions for unpaid fees and fines and non-driving related offenses will affect hundreds of thousands of people, and the raising of the felony threshold is a simple matter of justice and fairness. This administration continues to demonstrate its dedication to comprehensive criminal justice reform.”

Altria Becomes Largest Shareholder in Cronos Group, A Leading Global Cannabinoid Company

VIRGINIA: Altria announced the completion of its approximately USD $1.8 billion (CAD $2.4 billion) investment in Cronos Group, a leading global cannabinoid company, following receipt of shareholder and Canadian regulatory approvals.

Altria’s investment represents an approximate 45% economic and voting interest in Cronos Group with a warrant to acquire additional ownership at a price of CAD $19.00 per share, exercisable over the next four years. If exercised in full today, the warrant would increase Altria’s ownership in Cronos Group to approximately 55%. The aggregate exercise price for the warrant is approximately USD $1.0 billion (CAD $1.4 billion).

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Under the terms of the transaction, Altria nominated four directors who were recently elected to serve on Cronos Group’s seven member board: Kevin C. Crosthwaite, Jr., Murray R. Garnick, Bruce A. Gates and Bronwen Evans.

“We’re excited to finalize our investment in Cronos Group and to support their talented team,” said Howard Willard, Altria’s Chairman and Chief Executive Officer. “Cronos Group is our exclusive partner in the emerging global cannabis category and represents an exciting new growth opportunity for Altria.”

“We are delighted to close this transaction and kick-off a relationship that we expect to lead to significant growth and value creation,” said Mike Gorenstein, Cronos Group’s Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer. “Altria’s investment and the services they will provide to Cronos Group will enhance our financial resources and allow us to expand our product development and commercialization capabilities and regulatory expertise to better position Cronos Group to compete, scale and lead the rapidly growing global cannabis industry. We look forward to the many opportunities we expect this relationship to create.”

 

 

Kaine Introduces Bill To Allow Veterans To Access Medical Marijuana Through The VA

VIRGINIA: U.S. Senator Tim Kaine, a member of the Senate Armed Service Committee, joined Senator Brian Schatz to introduce legislation to allow doctors at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to discuss and potentially recommend medical marijuana to veterans in states that have established medical marijuana programs. The bill will create a temporary, five-year safe harbor protection for veterans who use medical marijuana and their doctors and direct the VA to research the effects of medical marijuana on veterans in pain as well as the relationship between medical marijuana programs and a potential reduction in opioid abuse among veterans.

“Right now, in the 33 states where it is legal, doctors may recommend medical marijuana to help eligible patients. Our bill ensures that doctors who work for the Department of Veterans Affairs can discuss and potentially recommend medical marijuana to their patients that are veterans in accordance with state law. To do otherwise amounts to unfairly punishing the men and women who served in our military. The bill would also take an important step in further exploring whether medical marijuana can be a viable tool to help veterans in pain and reduce opioid abuse,” Kaine said.

The Veterans Medical Marijuana Safe Harbor Act is supported by the American Academy of Pain Medicine, American Pain Society, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, Veterans Cannabis Coalition, Veterans Medical Cannabis Association, NORML, National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA), Americans for Safe Association, Marijuana Policy Project, Drug Policy Alliance, and Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies.

“Our members have spoken loud and clear on this issue,” said Tom Porter, Legislative Director for Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America.  “Eighty-three percent of respondents to our recently-released member survey approved of cannabis use for medicinal purposes. With such overwhelming support, we need to be removing barriers to care for veterans, not maintaining them. IAVA applauds Sen. Schatz for introducing the Veterans Medical Marijuana Safe Harbor Act to do just that.”

“When nearly one in four veterans report that they are consuming cannabis for therapeutic purposes, The Veterans Medical Marijuana Safe Harbor Act would provide crucial medical and civil protections for the men and women who put their lives on the line to serve this country. It is unconscionable that these brave individuals who stepped up to protect our nation’s freedoms would be treated as criminals when they return home simply for treating their medical ailments with a safe and effective option under state law,” said Justin Strekal, Political Director for NORML. “We applaud and appreciate the leadership by Senator Schatz in putting forward this legislation.”

Survey: Three Of Four Military Veterans Would Consider Using Medical Cannabis

NEW YORK: Seventy-five percent of military veterans say that they would consider using either “cannabis or cannabinoid products as a treatment option,” according to member survey data compiled by the group Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA). The organization represents over 400,000 veterans nationwide.

Under existing federal regulations, physicians affiliated with the Department of Veteran Affairs are forbidden from providing medical cannabis recommendations, even in jurisdictions that legally permit private practitioners to do so.

Overall, 83 percent of respondents expressed support for legalizing medical cannabis access, and 68 percent believe that the Department of Veterans Affairs “should allow for research into cannabis as a treatment option.” Proposed federal legislation to direct the agency to conduct clinical trials on the use of cannabis for PTSD and for other conditions is currently pending in the US House and Senate.

Twenty percent of veterans surveyed acknowledged having previously used cannabis for medical purposes. Other studies have estimated that as many as 41 percent of veterans acknowledge having consumed cannabis for therapeutic purposes. Available data documents that cannabis is effective in the treatment of chronic pain and may potentially mitigate symptoms of post-traumatic stress, along with other conditions veterans commonly face.


For more information, contact Justin Strekal, NORML Political Director, at: (202) 483-5500. Additional information is available from the NORML fact-sheet, “Marijuana and Veterans Issues.”

Altria to Make Growth Investment In Cronos Group

Altria to Invest USD $1.8 Billion (CAD $2.4 Billion) for 45% Ownership Interest in Leading Global Cannabinoid Company with Warrant to Increase Ownership to 55% Over Next 4 Years

VIRGINIA: Altria Group today announced that it has entered into an agreement to acquire newly issued shares in Cronos Group, a leading global cannabinoid company, headquartered in Toronto, Canada. The transaction represents a 45% equity stake in Cronos Group, at a price of CAD $16.25 per share, for an aggregate investment by Altria of approximately USD $1.8 billion (approximately CAD $2.4 billion).

As part of the agreement, at closing, Altria will have the right to nominate four directors, including one independent director, to serve on Cronos Group’s Board of Directors, which will be expanded from five to seven directors. The agreement includes a warrant to acquire an additional ownership interest in Cronos Group at a price of CAD $19.00 per share exercisable over four years from the closing date. If exercised in full, the warrant would increase Altria’s ownership in Cronos Group by 10% to approximately 55%.

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“Investing in Cronos Group as our exclusive partner in the emerging global cannabis category represents an exciting new growth opportunity for Altria,” said Howard Willard, Altria’s Chairman and Chief Executive Officer. “We believe that Cronos Group’s excellent management team has built capabilities necessary to compete globally, and we look forward to helping Cronos Group realize its significant growth potential.”

“Altria is the ideal partner for Cronos Group, providing the resources and expertise we need to meaningfully accelerate our strategic growth,” said Mike Gorenstein, Cronos Group’s Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer. “The proceeds from Altria’s investment will enable us to more quickly expand our global infrastructure and distribution footprint, while also increasing investments in R&D and brands that resonate with our consumers. Importantly, Altria shares our vision of driving long-term value through innovation, and we look forward to continuing to differentiate Cronos Group in this area.”

This investment positions Altria to participate in the emerging global cannabis sector, which it believes is poised for rapid growth over the next decade. It also creates a new growth opportunity in an adjacent category that is complementary to Altria’s core tobacco businesses.

Altria expects its investment to help Cronos Group accelerate its growth strategies and its R&D and intellectual property development. Additionally, Altria will provide expertise to help Cronos Group thrive in the growing global cannabis market. These services may include regulatory affairs, regulatory science, compliance, government affairs and brand management.

First Ever Veterans-Focused Medical Bill Introduced In Senate

DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA: Senators Bill Nelson (D-FL) and Brian Schatz (D-HI) on Wednesday introduced legislation, The Veterans Medical Marijuana Safe Harbor Act, to expand and facilitate medical cannabis access to military veterans suffering from chronic pain, PTSD, and other serious medical conditions.

Under existing regulations, VA doctors are not permitted to fill out the mandatory paperwork necessary to recommend cannabis therapy in those 31 states that regulate it. Passage of The Veterans Medical Marijuana Safe Harbor Act ends this discrimination against veterans and prevents sanctions against VA doctors who wish to recommend medical cannabis treatment to their patients. The Act also encourages the Veterans Administration to promulgate medical cannabis research, and appropriates funding for scientific studies.

A recent American Legion poll found that nearly one in four veterans use marijuana to alleviate a medical condition. A 2017 review of over 10,000 studies by the National Academy of Sciences concluded, “There is conclusive or substantial evidence that cannabis and cannabinoids are effective for the treatment for chronic pain in adults.”

Similar legislation, The Veterans Equal Access Act (HR 1820) is pending in the House. You can contact your federal lawmakers in support of both of these bills using the NORML Action Alert.


more information, contact Justin Strekal, NORML Political Director, at (202) 483-5500

Lawmakers Demand The VA Study Medical Marijuana

DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA:  Members of the US House Committee on Veteran’s Affairs are demanding that the Department of Veterans Affairs facilitate protocols to assess the efficacy of medical cannabis in veterans suffering from chronic pain conditions and post-traumatic stress.

Minnesota Democrat Tim Walz, along with nine other Democrat members of the Committee, authored an October 26, 2017 letter to VA Secretary David Shulkin stating: “[The] VA is uniquely situated to pursue research on the impact of medical marijuana on veterans suffering from chronic pain and PTSD given its access to world class researchers, the population it serves, and its history of overseeing and producing research resulting in cutting-edge medical treatments. … VA’s pursuit of research into the impact of medical marijuana on the treatment of veterans diagnosed with PTSD who are also experiencing chronic pain is integral to the advancement of health care for veterans and the nation. We ask VA to respond … with a commitment to the development of VHA-led research into this issue.”

In September, representatives from The American Legion addressed a separate letter to VA Secretary Shulkin encouraging the federal agency to assist in an ongoing, FDA-approved clinical trial assessing the safety and efficacy of various strains of cannabis in veterans with PTSD. To date, the VA has refused to assist in patient recruitment for the trial. The VA has yet to publicly respond to the Legion’s letter.

Survey data finds that military veterans frequently consume cannabis therapeutically, often using it as an alternative to conventional medications in the treatment of pain and post-traumatic stress.


For more information, contact Justin Strekal, NORML Political Director, at (202) 483-5500.