The Bulletin

Virginia attorney general announces plan to hire state’s first cannabis lawyer

By: - July 20, 2021 5:17 pm

Attorney General Mark Herring tours gLeaf Medical, a medical marijuana dispensary in Richmond, ahead of the July 1 legalization of recreational adult use. (Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury)

Attorney General Mark Herring says he plans to hire a lawyer dedicated to marijuana law now that the state has legalized the drug.

The new addition to his staff would serve as a subject-matter expert as the state’s new Cannabis Control Authority, which Gov. Ralph Northam appointed Monday, begins work developing regulations that will govern the legal marijuana market expected to open in 2024.

“I’m hiring a dedicated attorney to help guide the commonwealth’s efforts because I am committed to getting this right, and to making sure that we keep Virginia at the forefront of national efforts to craft a more just, fair and sensible system for dealing with cannabis,” Herring said in a statement.

The announcement comes as Herring, a Democrat who was among the party’s earliest and loudest supporters of marijuana legalization, seeks reelection to his third term in office. He faces Republican Del. Jason Miyares, who voted against legislation that legalized marijuana possession. (A spokeswoman for Miyares said in a statement that “regardless of his vote in the House of Delegates, as Attorney General Jason Miyares will not seek to overturn the marijuana legalization law and would defend it in court.”)

Herring’s office said the new hire will provide advice on the new law to state agencies that deal with everything from taxation to healthcare.

It’s critical that the commonwealth have counsel available to state agencies who is well-versed in both state and federal cannabis policies.

– Jenn Michelle Pedini, executive director of Virginia NORML

Advocates, who have occasionally voiced frustration with the state’s Board of Pharmacy as it developed rules for the state’s medical marijuana program, said they hoped the additional legal expertise will make things smoother for the recreational marijuana market.

“It’s critical that the commonwealth have counsel available to state agencies who is well-versed in both state and federal cannabis policies,” said Jenn Michelle Pedini, executive director of Virginia NORML, the state chapter of the National Organization to Reform Marijuana Laws.

Herring’s office says they’re looking for a lawyer with experience in business law, state and federal litigation, and “a strong knowledge of state and federal regulation of controlled substances.”

Under the legalization bill lawmakers passed earlier this year, employers can still refuse to hire or fire employees who use marijuana. A spokeswoman said the Office of the Attorney General does not conduct drug testing as a condition of employment.

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Ned Oliver
Ned Oliver

Ned, a Lexington native, has been a fulltime journalist since 2008, beginning at The News-Gazette in Lexington, and including stints at the Berkshire Eagle, in Berkshire County, Mass., and the Times-Dispatch and Style Weekly in Richmond. He is a graduate of Bard College at Simon’s Rock, in Great Barrington, Mass. He was named Virginia's outstanding journalist for 2020 by the Virginia Press Association. Contact him at [email protected]