Although Virginia adult-use cannabis sales were projected to begin no later than Jan. 1, 2024, the state’s adult-use cannabis sales plans have been stalled for the foreseeable future.
Initially, adult-use cannabis was sent by a Democratic-controlled General Assembly to the desk of former Gov. Ralph Northam, who signed the legislation in April 2021. The law included a clause that required the General Assembly to reenact certain provisions, such as regulatory and licensing market structure. However in November 2021, the General Assembly shifted to Republican control, as did the House of Delegates, which ultimately led to the failure of provisional bills.
In January, a House of Delegates subcommittee rejected a Republican-sponsored cannabis bill proposed that would have allowed sales to begin prior to Jan. 1, 2024. Republican Delegate Keith Hodges, who sponsored the failed cannabis bill that would have created adult-use cannabis regulations, called the situation a “public health crisis” just before the bill was rejected on Jan. 25. “You can legally possess marijuana in the Commonwealth of Virginia, but you can’t legally purchase it,” Hodges said. “If we do nothing, we have a problem on our hands. We need to protect the citizens of Virginia from the illicit market.”
According to NORML Development Director and Virginia NORML Executive Director JM Pedini explained that the result of the vote “was entirely expected, but is still disappointing, and it spotlights House Republicans’ continued failure of leadership on cannabis policy,” Pedini said. “Without access to a regulated marketplace, consumers won’t know whether they’re getting a safe, tested product or one contaminated with potentially dangerous adulterants.”
“This vote is another huge disappointment for Virginians, the majority of whom favor swift access to retail sales,” Pedini continued. “Legislation providing regulatory oversight is the best way for the Commonwealth to protect cannabis consumers. By failing to take legislative action, lawmakers are electing to continue driving consumers to the unregulated, underground market.”
MJBizDaily suggests that the failure to pass these cannabis legislative efforts were in part because current Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin was pressuring legislators to defeat all cannabis bills.
On Feb. 14, Senate Bill 1133, which was sponsored by Sen. Adam Ebbin, was recommended to be passed on indefinitely. “It is legal to possess small amounts of cannabis, it is legal to grow your own cannabis,” Ebbin told the subcommittee before the bill was rejected. “Yet we are kind of dragging our feet on establishing a retail market that could provide hundreds of millions of dollars in tax revenue, could provide a tested product for adults and could be kept out of the hands of children.”
During odd-numbered years, the Virginia General Assembly only meets for 30 days, and adjourned on Feb. 25, leaving legislators with no extra time to present an alternative.
Meanwhile in hemp, the Virginia House of Delegates (85 to 9 vote) and Senate of Virginia (23-17 vote) both passed a bill on Feb. 24 to create stricter regulations for Delta-8 hemp products. If passed, it would create new rules on labels, such as percentage and milligram amounts of THC in each Delate-8 product, as well as using any language that markets the products as a medical treatment of any kind. “I think this will go a long way in making sure that our communities are safe and that folks are buying what they purport to buy,” said House of Delegates Majority Leader Terry Kilgore.
The bill proposes that responsibility and management between the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services and the Virginia Cannabis Control Authority. Legislators such as Sen. Scott Surovell don’t believe that split control is the best course of action. “This is a first step toward a complete mess,” Surovell said. “And the reason we’re doing this is because somebody upstairs doesn’t want to talk about it.” The bill was recently sent to Gov. Youngkin, and is expected to be signed.
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