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A timeline of how Virginia became the first Southern state to turn green

RICHMOND, Va. — As of July 1, Virginia is the first Southern state, 17th overall, to be painted green with the legalization of recreational marijuana – shaving three years off lawmakers original plans to permit it.

Since the move came three years sooner than lawmakers originally planned, there are still many wrinkles to iron out in the legislation — but it’s something that has been hovering in the halls of Virginia’s capitol building for decades.

Believe it or not, the road the legalizing marijuana for medical use in the Commonwealth started in 1979, according to an article posted by The Baltimore Sun from The San Francisco Chronicle.

Legislators gave doctors the power to prescribe marijuana to treat glaucoma and to help cancer patients cope with the side effects of chemotherapy in an overhaul of the state’s drug laws, the article stated.

Technically, doctors could only recommend the use of the plant – not actually provide it to patients — and the law didn’t outline a process for how those patients could obtain it.

The 1979 law collected dust until the 90s, when the General Assembly tried to repeal it just as lawmakers in California were working to become the first to legalize it for medical use.

The ball of marijuana-related legislation started rolling through the House of Delegates again with the establishment of a committee in 1997 to study the economic impact of hemp in the state.

According to the Virginia Hemp Coalition (VHC), hemp has been growing in the fields of Virginia’s farms since the 1600s.

While genetically related to marijuana, hemp does not have the same level of THC that marijuana does -– that’s the chemical that causes the intoxicating feeling and psychotropic effects.

In 2015, Delegate Joseph R. Yost introduced House Bill 1277, which legalized the industrialization of hemp in the Commonwealth.

VHC President Jason Amatucci said the legalization of hemp and the education the VHC provided over the years helped to improve the normalization of the cannabis plant in Virginia, and assisted in the culmination its legalization.

That same year the General Assembly passed House Bill 1445 and Senate Bill 1235, making it easier for Virginians with severe forms of epilepsy to use two oils derived from cannabis, cannabidiol (CBD) and THC-A.

And 2015 was also the first failed attempt to decriminalize marijuana in the Virginia Senate.

Bills from both sides of the aisle continued to make their way into the General Assembly, with many failing – but not all.

In 2017, there was a change to how a marijuana offense affected the suspension of Virginian’s driver’s license and in 2018, Senate Bill 597 expanded upon the legal medical uses of CBD oil and THC-A oil.

Things really started taking flight in 2019.

That’s when Attorney General Mark Herring called for marijuana legalization.

A Cannabis Summit was held in December 2019 to address the issues of cannabis decriminalization and pathways towards legalization through legislative efforts.

In May of 2020, Governor Ralph Northam signed the bill to decriminalize marijuana in the Commonwealth – which undoubtedly added a huge push for it’s legalization.

Less than a year later, he amended bills that were set to legalize simple possession of marijuana in 2024 – accelerating the process to start in July of 2021.

Northam said he decided to legalize adult-use of marijuana sooner than planned in an effort to address the inequitable enforcement of marijuana laws on Black Virginians — something that couldn’t wait three more years.

Lawmakers approved Northam’s changes in April, but not without pushback.

The lengthy legislation has led to confusion for many, but the basics of the laws are outlined here by Virginia NORML, another advocacy group that played a huge part in the legalization process.

A complex process of creating a new state agency to oversee the marijuana marketplace will also start soon, with sales beginning in 2024.

Stages of the cannabis plant growth cycle in pictures

Cannabis plants, like all living things, go through a series of stages as they grow and mature. If you’re interested in cultivating cannabis, it’s especially important to understand the changes a plant undergoes during its life cycle, as each stage of growth requires different care.

Different stages call for different amounts of light, nutrients, and water. They also help us decide when to prune and train the plants. Determining a plant’s sex and overall health rely on stages of growth as well.

How long does it take to grow a marijuana plant?

Generally speaking, it takes anywhere from 14-32 weeks, or about 4-8 months, to grow a weed plant.

The biggest variability in how long a marijuana plant takes to grow will happen in the vegetative cycle—if you’re growing indoors, you can force it to flower after only a few weeks when it is small, or after several weeks when it is big. If you’re growing outdoors, you’re at the whim of the seasons and will have to wait until fall to harvest. The plant will develop buds in the last 8-11 weeks.

The life cycle of cannabis can be broken down into four primary stages from seed to harvest:

  • Germination (5-10 days)
  • Seedling (2-3 weeks)
  • Vegetative (3-16 weeks)
  • Flowering (8-11 weeks)

Seed germination (5-10 days)

Light cycle: 18 hours of light

The first stage of life for a cannabis plant begins with the seed. At this point, your cannabis plant is dormant, patiently waiting for water to bring it to life.

You can observe the quality of the seed by its color and texture. The seed should feel hard and dry, and be light- to dark-brown in color. An undeveloped seed is generally squishy and green or white in color and likely won’t germinate.

To begin growing from a seed, learn more about germination here. This stage can take anywhere between 5-10 days.

Once your seed has popped, it’s ready to be placed in its growing medium. The tap root will drive down while the stem of the seedling will grow upward. Two rounded cotyledon leaves will grow out from the stem as the plant unfolds from the protective casing of the seed. These initial leaves are responsible for taking in sunlight needed for the plant to become healthy and stable.

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As the roots develop, you will begin to see the first iconic fan leaves grow, at which point your cannabis plant can be considered a seedling.

Seedling stage (2-3 weeks)

Light cycle: 18 hours of light

When your plant becomes a seedling, you’ll notice it developing more of the traditional cannabis leaves. As a sprout, the seed will initially produce leaves with only one ridged blade. Once new growth develops, the leaves will develop more blades (1, 3, 5, 7, etc.). A mature cannabis plant will have between 5-7 blades per leaf, but some plants may have more.

Cannabis plants are considered seedlings until they begin to develop leaves with the full number of blades on new fan leaves. A healthy seedling should be a vibrant green color. Be very careful to not overwater the plant in its seedling stage—its roots are so small, it doesn’t need much water to thrive.

At this stage, the plant is vulnerable to disease and mold. Keep its environment clean and monitor excess moisture.

Vegetative stage (3-16 weeks)

Light cycle: 18 hours of light

The vegetative stage of cannabis is where the plant’s growth truly takes off. At this point, you’ve transplanted your plant into a larger pot, and the roots and foliage are developing rapidly. This is also the time to begin topping or training your plants.

Spacing between the nodes should represent the type of cannabis you are growing. Indica plants tend to be short and dense, while sativas grow lanky and more open in foliage.

Be mindful to increase your watering as the plant develops. When it’s young, your plant will need water close to the stalk, but as it grows the roots will also grow outward, so start watering further away from the stalk so the roots can stretch out and absorb water more efficiently.

Vegetative plants appreciate healthy soil with nutrients. Feed them with a higher level of nitrogen at this stage.

Flowering stage (8-11 weeks)

Light cycle: 12 hours of light

The flowering stage is the final stage of growth for a cannabis plant. Flowering occurs naturally when the plant receives less than 12 hours of light a day as the summer days shorten, or as the indoor light cycle is shortened. It is in this stage that resinous buds develop and your hard work will be realized.

If you need to determine the sex of your plants (to discard the males), they will start showing their sex organs a couple weeks into the flowering stage. It’s imperative to separate the males so they don’t pollenate the flowering females.

There are a number of changes to consider once your plant goes from its vegetative stage to flowering:

  • Your plants shouldn’t be pruned after three weeks into the flowering stage, as it can upset the hormones of the plant.
  • Plants should be trellised so that buds will be supported as they develop.
  • Consider feeding plants with blooming nutrients.

What week of flowering do buds grow the most?

Buds typically grow the most toward the end of the flowering cycle, around week 6-7. You probably won’t notice much budding out at the beginning of flower, and it will slow down toward the end of the cycle, when buds become fully formed.

This post was originally published on July 18, 2017. It was most recently updated on January 17, 2020.

Once the buds have reached full maturation, it’s time to harvest.

Trevor Hennings

Trevor is a freelance writer and photographer. He has spent years in California working in the cannabis industry.

Changes in Cannabis Potency over the Last Two Decades (1995-2014) – Analysis of Current Data in the United States

Marijuana is the most widely used illicit drug in the United States and all over the world. Reports indicate that the potency of cannabis preparation has been increasing. This report examines the concentration of cannabinoids in illicit cannabis products seized by DEA (drug and enforcement administration) over the last two decades, with particular emphasis on Δ 9 -THC and cannabidiol (CBD).


Samples in this report are received over time from DEA confiscated materials and processed for analysis using a validated ‘gas chromatograph with flame ionization detector (GC/FID)’ method.


A total of 38,681samples of cannabis preparations were received and analyzed between January 1, 1995 and December 31, 2014. The data showed that, while the number of marijuana samples seized over the last four years has declined, the number of sinsemilla samples has increased. Overall, the potency of illicit cannabis plant material has consistently risen over time since 1995 from approximately 4% in 1995 to approximately 12% in 2014. On the other hand, the CBD content has fallen on average from approximately 0.28% in 2001 to <0.15% in 2014, resulting in a change in the ratio of THC to CBD from 14 times in 1995 to approximately 80 times in 2014.


It is concluded that there is a shift in the production of illicit cannabis plant material from regular marijuana to sinsemilla. This increase in potency poses higher risk of cannabis use, particularly among adolescents.


Cannabis potency, expressed as the Δ 9 -tetrahydrocannabinol (Δ 9 -THC; or THC) concentration over time has been the subject of occasional reports from our group since 1984 (1-4). The importance of monitoring the potency of confiscated cannabis preparations, used as a measure of what is actually being used by the public, lies in the perceived negative health consequences of the use of the more potent products. This issue will be addressed in other parts of this special issue.

While cannabis has been reported to contain over 500 different compounds (546 compounds as of last count) belonging to a diverse group of chemical classes, the most important of which is the cannabinoids (104 cannabinoids) (5), the potency of cannabis is usually judged based on the THC content of the preparation. Other constituents do have pharmacological properties of their own, but are not the subject of this report.

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Different cannabis preparations are found in the illicit market. These include cannabis (marijuana, sinsemilla, and ditchweed), hashish (the resinous parts of the plants mixed with some plant particles and shaped into different forms depending on the preparation method) and hash oil (concentrated extract of cannabis plant material or hashish as an oil or semisolid preparation).

In our last potency trends publication (4) we reviewed the status of cannabis potency in the illicit market, not only in the United States (USA), but also in Europe and other countries around the world. The data from the USA was based on our own findings, ending in 2009, while the other countries’ data are based on literature reports. While the potency of cannabis has increased dramatically over the years, resulting in negative impact on the users (6), it is important to mention that the literature is rich with many studies showing efficacy and biological activity of therapeutic potential using much lower potency cannabis preparations (ranging from 1.5-4% THC).

In this review the focus will be on the status of the cannabis potency in the United States, since this is where the bulk of potency data has been generated. Furthermore, while previous potency reports from our group have included data from samples provided from the Federal Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) seizures as well as samples provided by state law enforcement agents through the cannabis eradication program, this review will focus on potency trends using only the DEA seized materials. These samples actually provide more realistic data since the seizures are made as the materials were on the way to illicit market distribution. While the main cannabinoids of interest in cannabis are THC and CBD, analysis is carried out for all major cannabinoids to have a good understanding of the chemical profile of all samples which might affect the overall biological activity of the drug.



All samples in this report were received from drug and enforcement administration (DEA) and provided to our laboratory (under contract with the National Institute on Drug Abuse, NIDA) by DEA regional laboratories. These samples were stored in a climatic controlled storage at 4°C by DEA before sending it to The University of Mississippi (UMISS). At UMISS, samples were also stored in a climatic controlled vault at 4°C. A total of 39,985 cannabis preparations (cannabis plant material, hashish and hash oil) were received during that period, January 1, 1995 to December 31, 2014, from the eight DEA regional laboratories as shown in Table 1 , of which 38,681 cannabis samples were analyzed ( Table 2 ).

Table 1

Number of specimens, by category, submitted by DEA regional laboratories for analysis, 1995 to 2014

DEA Regional Laboratory Cannabis Hashish Hash Oil Total Total
n Δ 9 -THC % n Δ 9 -THC % n Δ 9 -THC % n Δ 9 -THC %
STRL (Special Testing Research Laboratory) 31 3.00±3.11 86 4.95±3.72 6 11.04±10.28 123 4.76±4.37
NERL (Northeast Regional Laboratory) 4474 9.92±6.26 96 15.62±15.51 21 16.55±8.87 4591 10.07±6.66
MARL (Mid-Atlantic Regional Laboratory) 3258 7.18±4.40 35 16.29±16.65 12 22.48±6.69 3305 7.33±4.88
SERL (Southeast Regional Laboratory) 5080 7.39±5.25 54 13.27±14.14 49 21.00±16.31 5183 7.58±5.79
NCRL (North Central Regional Laboratory) 6204 7.35±4.90 48 20.26±17.37 16 48.35±25.42 6268 7.55±5.75
SCRL (South Central Regional Laboratory) 3383 5.19±2.75 8 26.38±18.06 4 68.63±3.56 3395 5.31±3.74
SWRL (Southwest Regional Laboratory) 5464 10.61±6.60 291 26.86±16.91 50 29.27±27.97 5805 11.59±8.78
WRL (Western Regional Laboratory) 9712 7.12±5.39 196 28.14±19.70 103 45.94±30.87 10011 7.93±8.30
Grand Total 37606 7.86±5.57 814 21.78±18.15 261 34.32±28.00 38681 8.34±7.14

Table 2

Average cannabinoids concentration of cannabis samples confiscated by DEA, 1995 to 2014

Year N Δ 8 -THC % Δ 9 -THC % CBD % CBC % CBN % CBG % THCV %
1995 3763 0.00 3.96±1.82 0.28±0.48 0.19±0.08 0.39±0.27 0.13±0.22 0.05±0.08
1996 1402 0.00 4.51±2.26 0.37±0.56 0.20±0.10 0.38±0.31 0.16±0.30 0.09±0.15
1997 1337 0.00 5.01±2.72 0.41±0.67 0.19±0.09 0.34±0.30 0.20±0.23 0.11±0.11
1998 1341 0.00 4.90±2.96 0.41±0.67 0.20±0.32 0.38±1.15 0.17±0.21 0.07±0.08
1999 1825 0.00 4.60±3.42 0.42±0.64 0.17±0.09 0.55±0.42 0.17±0.26 0.05±0.07
2000 1929 0.00 5.34±3.51 0.52±0.83 0.18±0.08 0.51±0.36 0.26±0.27 0.08±0.08
2001 1687 0.00 6.11±3.72 0.55±0.85 0.19±0.09 0.40±0.32 0.29±0.27 0.09±0.08
2002 1690 0.00 7.20±4.79 0.47±0.79 0.21±0.15 0.28±0.28 0.28±0.28 0.10±0.10
2003 1872 0.00 7.15±4.66 0.47±0.77 0.22±0.10 0.29±0.29 0.33±0.32 0.09±0.08
2004 1914 0.00 8.14±5.29 0.51±0.84 0.23±0.33 0.35±0.30 0.40±0.35 0.10±0.13
2005 2295 0.00 8.01±5.02 0.48±0.88 0.26±0.32 0.39±0.37 0.40±0.37 0.09±0.13
2006 2081 0.00 8.76±5.66 0.43±0.81 0.24±0.15 0.33±0.38 0.40±0.36 0.09±0.11
2007 2143 0.00 9.58±5.47 0.46±0.98 0.24±0.17 0.31±0.68 0.44±0.38 0.10±0.14
2008 2000 0.00 9.93±5.41 0.41±0.97 0.25±0.16 0.41±0.44 0.37±0.35 0.10±0.15
2009 2074 0.01±0.05 9.75±5.49 0.39±0.84 0.24±0.25 0.48±0.47 0.33±0.36 0.10±0.12
2010 2260 0.05±0.26 10.36±6.25 0.28±0.60 0.25±0.18 0.50±0.43 0.34±0.33 0.08±0.11
2011 2342 0.06±0.10 11.13±6.57 0.22±0.56 0.25±0.24 0.45±0.41 0.42±0.96 0.09±0.13
2012 2091 0.08±0.11 12.30±6.89 0.20±0.56 0.24±0.14 0.55±0.44 0.43±0.34 0.09±0.10
2013 1133 0.08±0.11 12.02±6.23 0.17±0.58 0.27±0.15 0.58±0.42 0.47±0.36 0.10±0.15
2014 427 0.07±0.11 11.84±6.60 0.15±0.40 0.23±0.11 0.45±0.36 0.46±0.32 0.09±0.12
Grand Total 37606 0.02±0.08 7.86±5.57 0.39±0.75 0.22±0.19 0.41±0.45 0.32±0.40 0.09±0.11

The description of each sample type of cannabis product received for analysis is listed below:

Marijuana – Male or female cannabis grown for illicit drug use

Sinsemilla – Female cannabis plants which have not been pollinated. May grow from cutting or from seed. May contain some seed (if unpollinated the seed will be sterile).

Kilobrick – Pressed cannabis made of leaves, heads, stems, and seeds.

Thai Sticks – A form of cannabis from Thailand consisting of premium buds of seedless marijuana in which the leaves and buds are tied on the stems to secure the plant material.

Hashish – A concentrated resin cake or ball produced from pressed kief, the detached tricomes and fine material that falls off the cannabis flowers and leaves. It varies in color from black to golden brown depending on the purity and variety of cultivar it was obtained from.

Hash Oil – Obtained from the cannabis plant by solvent extraction, and contains the cannabinoids present in the natural oils of cannabis flowers and leaves. The solvents are evaporated to leave behind very concentrated oil.

Ditchweed – Unattended, wild male and female fiber type cannabis (hemp) that is native to many mid-western states.

GC/FID Analysis

The analytical method has been previously described (3). Briefly, a Varian gas chromatograph with Flame Ionisation Detector (GC/FID) is used for the analysis. Quantitative analysis of seven of the major cannabinoids in cannabis (Δ 9 -Tetrahydrocannabinol, Δ 9 -THC; Δ 8 -Tetrahydrocannabinol, Δ 8 -THC; Tetrahydrocannabivarin, THCV; Cannabidiol, CBD; Cannabichromen, CBC; Cannabigerol, CBG and Cannabinol, CBN) is carried out by solvent extraction followed by analysis using capillary gas chromatography, a method offering short analysis time and resolution of all cannabinoids on a single column. Two samples (100 mg each) are used for analysis from each manicured potency monitoring (PM) sample. A 3.0 ml of internal standard (I.S.) extraction solvent (100 mg of 4-androstene-3,17-dione + 10 mL chloroform + 90 mL methanol) is added to the sample and allowed to rest at room temperature for one hour. The extract is then filtered through a cotton plug and the clear filtered material is transferred to an autosampler vial. Samples are placed onto the GC instrument along with vials of ethanol, internal standard/Δ 9 -THC mixture (unextracted standard), and controls. Lastly the results are calculated by obtaining an average percentage of each cannabinoid from the two chromatograms of each PM sample. It must be noted that the response factor for the cannabinoids relative to I.S. is 1. Therefore, the area of each cannabinoid divided by that of the I.S. multiplied by the amount of I.S. added (3 mg) gives the percentage of each cannabinoid in the sample, since 100 mg of sample is used for analysis. For example, a cannabinoid with the same peak area as that of the I.S. represents a 3% concentration in the sample. The method has been validated to meet FDA (food and drug administration) GMP (good manufacturing practices) requirements.

Statistical Analysis

The statistical analysis of data was performed using normal distribution function (NORM.DIST) of Microsoft Excel.


The first Potency Monitoring (PM) sample was received for analysis in 1975. In past years, confiscated marijuana samples were sent to the project from National, State, and Local law enforcement agencies, but due to funding restrictions, only samples from the DEA regional laboratories are processed for analysis as of August, 2010. A database to record information of each sample was established by the University of Mississippi School of Pharmacy data center. These samples are assigned a PM number by the database. Information such as seizure location (city and state), seizure amount, seizure date, case number, exhibit number, and identification of type of sample (bud, sinsemilla, kilobrick, maturity level, hashish, hash oil, etc.) are entered to describe the sample. At present, there are 54 fields of information entered to describe each sample. The samples are then prepared for analysis. Technological advances over the years have made it possible to increase the information recorded for each sample. The most recent database is on the web and can be viewed by a selected group. It also has the capability to be downloaded into a program e.g., excel, making it possible to prepare graphs and tables. The database program also has the capability to prepare many of the reports required by the Natonal Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) and other federal agencies.

Although the database includes samples received from DEA specimens as well as samples from domestic cannabis eradication program administered by different state law enforcement agencies, this report will only deal with DEA seized samples, representing approximately two-thirds of total number of samples. These samples have been referred to in some of our previous reports as non-domestic samples (the country of production of those samples is unknown) to distinguish them from the known domestically produced samples.

A total of 38,681 samples of cannabis preparations (37,606 cannabis plant material, 814 hashish and 261 hash oil samples) were received between January 1, 1995 and December 31, 2014 (20-year period), submitted by the eight DEA regional laboratories. All the cannabis samples (37,606) of different categories were analyzed. The main categories are marijuana (26,145 samples) and sensimilla (11,344 samples), and rest of the samples were ditchweed (115) and unknown (2). Under an agreement between NIDA and DEA our laboratory is to receive a 25 gram sample from the evidence submitted to the regional laboratories of each DEA marijuana seizure exceeding 75 grams, and a 2 gram sample from each hashish and hash oil seizure. Table 1 shows the number of samples, by category (cannabis, hashish or hash oil) received from each of the eight DEA regional laboratories, with the average Δ 9 -THC content for each product by region.

It is clear that the vast majority of the samples are in the cannabis (plant material) category, and that the hash oil has the highest Δ 9 -THC content followed by hashish then cannabis. Table S1 on the other hand shows a breakdown of the cannabis samples by type. Marijuana and sinsemilla are where most of the samples reside.

Table 2 shows the average concentration of THC and other major cannabinoids in cannabis samples by year, depicting the constant trend of increased potency of cannabis over time, starting from approximately 4% in 1995 and rising to approximately 12% in 2014. This is depicted in the graph shown in Figure 1 . On the other hand there was no trend one way or the other for the content of the other cannabinoids except for CBD which has shown a general decline over the last decade, going from approximately 0.5% in 2004 to less than 0.2% in 2014, and the observed increase in the CBG concentration from 0.13% in 1995 to 0.46% in 2014 ( Figure 2 ).

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