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Virginia Legislature Greenlights Adult-Use Cannabis Sales, Governor’s Approval Awaited

The hotly anticipated moment has finally arrived. House of Delegates and Senate lawmakers in Virginia are settling their differences and agreeing to greenlight adult-use cannabis sales, paving the way for dispensaries to sell recreational marijuana as early as May 1, 2025. However, there is one more hurdle to overcome. The legislation needs the signature of a governor who has been less than enthusiastic about transforming Virginia into the latest state to allow adult-use cannabis.

Virginia has a complicated history where marijuana is concerned, one that could have yet another chapter added to it should the General Assembly succeed with its latest piece of adult-use cannabis legislation. Yet it remains to be seen whether the Governor will help write that chapter by affixing his signature to it, or will instead crumple it up and toss it in the dustbin.

Marijuana in Virginia

Before you can grasp what a vital step this new legislation takes when it comes to marijuana reform, you have to understand Virginia’s complicated cannabis past. In 2021, Virginia became the first state in the South to legalize cannabis for adult recreational use. Those over 21 can legally possess up to one ounce of cannabis and cultivate up to four plants in their home. It sounds like a victory for marijuana advocates. However, there is a catch. Marijuana sales are still illegal and unregulated. There has been no framework put in place for the legal cultivating and sale of recreational cannabis in the state, leaving cannabis enthusiasts stuck in a kind of marijuana limbo where possessing the drug is okay, but purchasing it is not. 

Democrats who passed the 2021 legislation added a reenactment clause for a commercial cannabis market into the original measure. However, that reenactment never came to fruition, as Republicans took back control of the Virginia House and Governor’s mansion in the subsequent election. 

Advocates like Greg Habeeb, a former Republican delegate now lobbying on behalf of the Virginia Cannabis Association, say that the state already has a budding $3 billion adult-use cannabis market – just one that is currently managed by drug dealers selling unregulated and untested products. The state doesn’t need to create a marijuana marketplace. It needs to regulate the one it already has.

Three Years Later, Lawmakers Want to Regulate the Market 

Nearly three years after passing legislation legalizing adult-use cannabis, lawmakers went back to the drawing board – this time with Democratic majorities in both houses. House and Senate lawmakers in Virginia settled on a compromise bill allowing the Virginia Cannabis Control Authority to open an application process for the commercial, adult-use marketplace. The bill, sponsored by Del. Paul Krizek (D-Fairfax) and Sen. Aaron Rouse (D-Virginia Beach), passed along party lines. The vote was 51 to 47 in the House and 21 to 18 in the Senate. With Democrats in control of both the House and the Senate, meaningful marijuana legislation was finally able to make progress. Only two Republicans voted in favor of the measure.

The compromise measure paves the way for the CCA to open the commercial application process by September 1, 2024, allowing adults to legally purchase cannabis in Virginia the following year. The measure would also place an 11.625 percent excise tax on cannabis, an 8 percent state tax, and a 2.5 percent local tax option. It also includes a 1.125 percent sales-and-use tax to help fund the Commonwealth’s kindergarten through 12th grade education. There are also provisions for licensed preferences for micro businesses that offer economic opportunities for the economically disadvantages, including those who suffered hardships because of the federal government’s war on marijuana, according to bill sponsor Del. Paul Krizek.

The legislation also stipulates that no one group gets a head start on the new retail launch in Virginia. Existing medical cannabis operators can apply for up to five adult-use dispensary licenses that can be co-located with their medical dispensaries. The CCA would have the authority and discretion to license up to 350 adult-use cannabis outlets and 100 marijuana processing facilities. However, local municipalities would also be allowed to opt out of letting marijuana retailers open their doors in their jurisdiction if a majority of voters pass a referendum blocking cannabis retailers.

One Final Roadblock?

Advocates and Democratic lawmakers applaud and hail the new legislation as a win for their constituencies and for social justice. However, although the measure passed both the House and Senate, one final test is in store. The measure cannot go into effect until it is signed by Republican Governor Glenn Youngkin.

While Gov. Youngkin has not come out and said he would veto a cannabis retail sales bill, he has not been keen on moving forward with adult-use marijuana reform, either. The Governor tends to offer vague and non-committal responses when confronted with questions about recreational marijuana. In January, when reporters asked him about marijuana legislation, he said, “I’ve said before, this is an area that I really don’t have any interest in. What I want us to work on are areas where we can find a meeting of the mind and press forward to the betterment of Virginia, and there are so many of them.”

While many lawmakers and marijuana enthusiasts remain optimistic, some are bracing for a crushing defeat in the form of a veto from the Governor’s office. Gov. Youngkin continues to signal that he has no interest in advancing marijuana reform any further in Virginia and may flex his political muscle to keep adult-use marijuana sales illegal. Many call the position folly and say failing to establish a legal retail marketplace will allow illegal, unregulated, and dangerous shops to thrive. Instead of lining the pockets of drug dealers, lawmakers want to harness marijuana tax revenue and use it for education, substance disorder prevention and treatment programs, and public health programs that prevent drugged driving and underage consumption.

Are you eager to see which side of the marijuana-retail debate Governor Youngkin comes down on? Follow this story and others on Cannaabuter Digest. We are your one-stop shop for cannabis-related content, like newsrecipes, and product reviews

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