Momentum Across The Nation – New Mexico, Virginia, and the District of Columbia
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Momentum Across The Nation – New Mexico, Virginia, and the District of Columbia

By Madeline Grant, NCIA’s Government Relations Manager

We may be barely three months into 2021, but we’ve seen a lot of action in state legislatures already! This week, let’s take a look at three significant state victories in their respective state legislatures: Virginia, New Mexico, and the District of Columbia. 


The Virginia legislature approved adult-use cannabis legalization this past Saturday in a historic vote. The state of Virginia specifically is a major achievement as it’s the first state in the South to embrace full cannabis legalization. The House passed the measure in a 48-43 vote, and the Senate approved it in a 20-19 vote. It is important to note that not a single Republican voted for the bill in either chamber, but regardless, it passed and this is a major victory for cannabis policy reform.

So, what’s next? Virginia is the 16th state to pass an adult-use cannabis legalization law. Along with Illinois and Vermont, Virginia is the third state to pass legalization to legalize, tax and regulate recreational cannabis through the state legislature. 

The Conference Committee established a January 1, 2024 enactment date for the law — this is when regulated sales are scheduled to start. Additionally, lawmakers agreed to establish an independent agency, the Virginia Cannabis Control Authority, to oversee the regulations and govern the adult-use market in Virginia. Adults will be able to possess up to one ounce of marijuana and cultivate up to four plants per household without penalty. The remainder of the bill, which details regulatory and market structure social equity provisions, and repeals criminal penalties, is subject to a second review and vote by the assembly next year. Lawmakers were sure to address issues such as how to prevent large corporations from taking over the cannabis market, how to handle expungement of cannabis offenses, addressing social equity provisions, including prioritizing business licenses for individuals who have been disproportionately impacted by criminal enforcement, and more. This is a big move for Virginia and we are excited to keep a close eye. 

New Mexico 

Last Friday, Members of the New Mexico House of Representatives approved House Bill 12, to legalize and regulate the use, possession, cultivation, and retail sale of cannabis for adults. House Bill 12 will move to the Senate for further consideration. If passed, the current measure, approved by the House by a 39 to 31 vote, would allow adults to purchase at least two ounces of marijuana and cultivate up to six plants for personal use. Additionally, those convicted of an offense involving up to two ounces of marijuana possession would be eligible for automatic expungement, and those currently incarcerated for these offenses would be eligible for dismissal. House Bill 12 is one of the five competing adult-use legalization measures and specifically addresses social equity and community reinvestment provisions. 

So, what’s next? We’ve seen a history of opposing chambers in New Mexico through cannabis legalization efforts in 2019 and 2020. The following day after the vote in the House, the Senate Tax, business Transportation Committee considered three additional measures to legalize and regulate cannabis retail sales. The lawmakers discussed the differences and similarities between the competing cannabis measures and noted the need to reach an agreement on differences before the end of the short legislative session, adjourning for the year on March 20, 2021. We will keep an eye on the Virginia state legislature and actions moving forward. 

District of Columbia 

We saw movement in D.C. when voters showed support at the ballot box by passing Initiative 71 in 2014, which allows adults in D.C. to grow, possess, and gift marijuana but not sell it. Since then, we’ve seen Congress prevent D.C. from allowing the sale of cannabis by attaching a provision to D.C.’s appropriations bill that precludes the District from using its fund to legalize or regulate cannabis sales. The District’s Mayor, Muriel Bowser, is pushing forward with legalization to legalize cannabis in the District. The Safe Cannabis Sales Act of 2021 was introduced last Friday. It would legalize recreational cannabis sales in the District for people 21 and up. The bill also takes steps to combat the toll cannabis criminalization has taken on communities of color, expunge some marijuana-related offenses from people’s criminal records, funnel sales tax revenue into helping get start-ups off the ground, and creates a new license category for microbusiness and third-party “social equity” delivery services. Additionally, more revenue from cannabis sales would go towards funding organizations in wards 7 and 8, which includes women and minority-owned small businesses opening or expanding restaurants; small grocery stores; and public school after-school programs. D.C. would require cannabis vendors to have their products tested by an independent facility to track their potency and check them for contaminants. Days after Mayor Bowser unveiled her reform proposal, Council Chairman Phil Mendelson introduced a cannabis regulation bill. When comparing the two pieces of legislation there are some key differences surrounding tax rate, revenue, licensing, and expungements. For more details, check out Washington City Paper’s article here

What’s next? As I mentioned previously, since 2014, Congress has included language in a spending bill that prevents the District from spending any of its funds to create a tax-and-regulate system. Because of this, the District has been stalled in implementing the sale of cannabis. However, now that Democrats control both houses of Congress and therefore the appropriations committees, we are hopeful that this rider preventing cannabis sales in the nation’s capital could be lifted. 

According to the latest Gallup poll, 68% percent of Americans support legalizing cannabis, which is up from last year’s 66 percent. With support for full cannabis legalization growing, it’s not particularly surprising to see reform happening in these states. We are watching these states closely as they inch towards cannabis legalization. We see different entities making efforts to reform outdated cannabis laws; such as governors, mayors, advocates, patients, lawmakers, and the overall cannabis community. Together, through dedication and commitment, we will continue to move the ball forward in states and at the federal level. 

Please stay tuned for more updates and please make sure to check out NCIA’s State Policy Map where all state updates are housed. As we continue the good fight it’s important to count our victories. 


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