The push to legalize medical and recreational marijuana across the country continues, with many states passing one form of wee legalization or the other. However, some states are having a more challenging time than others passing legislation to legalize marijuana. This is particularly true in GOP-controlled state legislatures. Virginia recently introduced measures seeking to create a framework for the legal sale of cannabis by retailers. Unfortunately, GOP lawmakers are killing cannabis bills before the legislation can even reach the General Assembly floor for a full vote.
What does that mean for legal weed sales in Virginia? Is there hope lawmakers can muster enough votes to allow recreational cannabis sales in the Commonwealth? So far, chances of passing meaningful cannabis legislation this session are looking less than likely.
Virginia Cannabis Legislation on the Slate for 2023
Multiple cannabis-related bills have been proposed in this legislative session in Virginia. However, many of those bills continue to be shot down by Republican lawmakers before they can leave committees. To date, the GOP-controlled House of Delegates committee has squashed two marijuana bills from members of their caucus already. House Bill 1750, a measure introduced by Michael Weber (R), would have built a framework for the creation of a retail marijuana market in the Commonwealth. Keith Hodges (R) also introduced a similar measure which was eventually watered-down content-wise before being killed in a five to two committee vote. In states that haven’t fully legalized weed, it isn’t unusual to water down a legal marijuana bill only to have it fail regardless.
The final bill on the table, SB1133, comes from Virginia state Senator Adam Ebbin (D). Sen. Ebbin’s measure expands on the scope of this Republican colleagues’ house bills, taking a more comprehensive approach to legalizing cannabis in Virginia. His measure seeks to create a “transitional sales” period for adult cannabis use and consumption. Pharmaceutical processors and at least five franchisees from historically economically disadvantaged communities could begin retail cannabis sales as soon as January 1st, 2024. Additional applicants could enter the cannabis retail market by July 1st, 2024. The bill would also tax cannabis products at 21% while giving localities the option to tack on an additional 3% tax.
Proponents of SB1133 say that the measure could generate hundreds of millions of dollars in tax revenue for the Commonwealth. Sen. Ebbin introduced a similar measure last year. The House struck down that version of the bill.
SB1133 passed a Democratically controlled Senate this session by a 21 to 16 vote in early February. However, the movement stalled once again in the Republican-held House of Delegates. A subcommittee killed the measure in a five to three vote along party lines. The vote dissolved any remaining chance the Commonwealth had to pass recreational marijuana legislation during the 2023 legislative session.
When Can Recreational Sales Begin?
Previously, lawmakers had hoped that recreational marijuana sales in the Commonwealth could begin as soon as 2024. Instead, the failure of SB1133 to pass the House of Delegates subcommittee means it could potentially be years before meaningful cannabis legislation passes and a retail cannabis market can emerge.
The soonest the legislature could take up new measures legalizing recreational marijuana would be during the 2024 General Assembly session. If a cannabis bill moved forward, recreational sales might not be feasible until at least 2025.
Why Does Legalizing Cannabis in Virginia Matter?
Why does legalizing cannabis use in Virginia matter so much to people in the Commonwealth? There is a reason so many bills dealing with cannabis sales hit the General Assembly this session. In 2021, Virginia passed a measure to allow marijuana possession of up to one ounce. It also passed a bill allowing people to grow up to four marijuana plants per household. The Commonwealth also established the Cannabis Control Authority.
Retail sales of cannabis were supposed to begin on January 1st, 2024. However, a re-enactment clause requiring the assembly to re-approve the sales provision died following a Republican takeover of the General Assembly.
The problem? Although people can legally possess marijuana, where do they legally buy it? There continues to be no framework for legally purchasing cannabis or cannabis products. Many citizens criticize assembly members for legalizing cannabis and then walking away, creating what many consider a large and confusing mess.
The failures of the 2023 General Assembly’s measures attempting to correct the problem again leave Virginia’s retail cannabis market in limbo.
The Next Move Is Yours
In 2024, there is the potential that the General Assembly may look significantly different. Nearly all 140 assembly seats will be on the ballot this November. Virginia voters interested in legalizing recreational marijuana in the Commonwealth would be wise to research a candidate’s stance on the issue and hit the polls this November if they want another chance to see assembly members tackle recreational cannabis legislation.
Already, members of an equity-focused advocacy group are setting their sights on the November election cycle. Chelsea Higgs Wise, executive director of Marijuana Justice, says her group is focused on campaigning on the issue ahead of the November election. The hope is voters can turn out for pro-marijuana candidates, reorganizing the structure of the Virginia General Assembly. This restructuring may give recreational marijuana legislation a fighting chance during the next General Assembly session.
Retail marijuana sales could be a hot topic during the election cycle. One study indicates that as many as 60 percent of Virginia voters favor legalizing the retail sale of cannabis and cannabis-related products. Although some lawmakers remain critical, Virginia voters increasingly support establishing retail marijuana businesses. Not only can marijuana sales increase tax revenue, but creating a controlled legal framework means the Commonwealth can maintain oversight of quality, purity, and safety.
In the meantime, possession of small amounts of cannabis in Virginia stays legal. However, finding a place to purchase retail cannabis products remains elusive.
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