“The longer we wait to have a regulated market, the harder it will be to compete with that illicit market.”
By Ned Oliver, Virginia Mercury
A House of Delegates subcommittee Monday voted down legislation that would have allowed recreational marijuana sales to begin this September.
“I think this is a bigger issue than we can correct in two weeks’ time,” said Del. Jeff Campbell, R-Smyth.
Democrats on the panel urged their GOP colleagues to reconsider. “The longer we wait to have a regulated market, the harder it will be to compete with that illicit market,” said Del. Dawn Adams, D-Richmond.
House Republicans just killed legislation that would have established a LEGAL marketplace for buying marijuana in Virginia.
We could have ended the illicit marijuana market. Now the black market now will continue to thrive, putting Virginians at risk.
— Virginia Democrats (@vademocrats) February 28, 2022
The General Assembly voted last year to allow people to possess and grow marijuana, but lawmakers have so far been unable to agree on legalized recreational sales. Democrats had set an initial goal of opening sales in 2024, but decided over the summer that was too long to wait, citing concerns that people were openly flouting the state’s ban on sales.
Currently the only legal way to obtain marijuana in Virginia is to grow it, get it as a gift or buy it from a medical dispensary with a prescription.
The politics became more complex after Democrats lost their majority in the House of Delegates in the November elections, leaving Republicans who opposed legalization to broker a final deal.
We worked for years to establish this legal marketplace – all @GovernorVA and House GOP had to do was vote to finalize it. Their inaction allows the illicit market to thrive and decades of disproportionate enforcement of marijuana laws to go unaddressed.https://t.co/19M29Tm4Nh
— Eileen Filler-Corn (@EFillerCorn) February 28, 2022
Coming into the legislative session, Republicans said they would address the issue, framing it as a mess Democrats had left them to clean up. But as the session progressed, it became clear the House GOP caucus was unable to reach an internal consensus on the issue.
The chamber never docketed GOP bills that would have advanced legalization alongside Republican priorities like dedicating new tax revenue to school construction.
With Monday’s vote, Republicans promised to revisit the issue next year, making sometime in mid to late 2023 the earliest retail sales could begin.
“Virginia Democrats made a great big mess when they legalized marijuana without putting any regulatory or retail structure in place,” said House Speaker Todd Gilbert in a tweet. “We are left having to clean up their mess and we will not make it worse by rushing to fix it.”
Let’s be clear: Virginia Democrats made a great big mess when they legalized marijuana without putting any regulatory or retail structure in place. We are left having to clean up their mess and we will not make it worse by rushing to fix it.
— Speaker Todd Gilbert (@cToddGilbert) February 28, 2022
House Republicans did advance legislation proposed by Del. Emmet Hanger, R-Augusta, which would regulate sales of delta-8 THC products, which give users a similar high as traditional marijuana but whose producers argue is technically legal under state and federal law.
The products have sprung up in specialty shops, gas stations and health markets.
Hanger’s bill would unambiguously bar sales until the recreational marijuana market opens.
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly attributed remarks by Del. Jeff Campbell to one of his GOP colleagues.