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Virginia Legislative Joint Commission Recommends Speeding Up Marijuana Sales Launch By A Year

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A Virginia legislature marijuana oversight panel on Thursday voted in favor of a recommendation to allow adult-use cannabis sales to launch in January 2023—one year earlier than what’s prescribed under the legalization law that passed this year.

The legislature’s Joint Commission on Cannabis Oversight voted 7-1, with one abstention, to expedite retail sales and have the new Cannabis Control Authority (CCA) regulate the program. Those initial sales would be facilitated through existing medical marijuana dispensaries as rules are implemented to license additional recreational retailers.

It remains to be seen whether the full House of Delegates and Senate will ultimately adopt the recommendation when members reconvene next month under incoming Republican leadership in one chamber and the governor’s office.

As it stands under the law as enacted, sales are currently set to begin in 2024. But because of a reenactment clause that was tacked on, legislators are required to hold another vote on the legalization proposal during next year’s session to allow commercial sales. Low-level possession and home cultivation already became legal this year, and those provisions are not subject to reenactment.

“We’re pleased an agreement was reached on a policy recommendation to expedite adult-use sales,” JM Pedini, executive director of Virginia NORML, told Marijuana Moment. “Virginians 21 and older ought to have access at the already-operational dispensaries sooner rather than later, and they have been very clear in their demands to move earlier the date of sales.”

“Still, this legislation will face an uphill battle in the now divided General Assembly,” Pedini, who also serves as NORML’s national development director, added.

Members of the joint commission on Thursday rejected a separate proposal to push up the retail sales timeline to July 2022. They also considered several other items, including the involvement of current hemp businesses in adult-use marijuana cultivation.

While there have been some concern among advocates that the incoming GOP-controlled House might seek to interfere in the implementation of the legalization bill that outgoing Gov. Ralph Northam (D) signed into law in April. But certain GOP legislators have given assurances that they will not attempt to block sales.

House Speaker-designee Todd Gilbert (R) and Del. Glenn Davis (R) said last month that the current system—where adults 21 and older can possess and cultivate cannabis for personal use but there’s no commercial access to marijuana products—isn’t tenable in the long term. But questions have been raised about what kinds of changes they might seek to make even if they won’t repeal the program altogether.

Gilbert did say that Democrats “didn’t do [legalization] the right way,” but “we’re going to have to fix all that and we’re going to work with the Democratic Senate to fix all that.”

“I imagine the roadmap that they laid out as to how that would occur, if they did it in the future, is going to change dramatically,” he said. “But obviously, we’ve been left with that live grenade kind of rolling around and we need to fix it or else all we have is a black market.”

When the legislature took up legalization this year, the reform measure passed along party lines, without a single Republican voting in favor of the proposal on the floor of the Senate or Assembly. At the time, both chambers were controlled by Democrats.

It was an amendment offered by Northam and adopted by the legislature that made it so personal possession and cultivation would be made legal for adults this year, rather than in 2024 as the bill originally stipulated.

For his part, Gov.-elect Glenn Youngkin (R) said in April that he’s “never met anybody who habitually used marijuana and was successful.” In May he described legalization as “another problem that’s going to be dumped at my feet” should he be elected.

Northam was ineligible to run for re-election because Virginia prevents governors from serving consecutive terms.

It remains a possibility that Republicans could seek to undermine the state’s legalization law, but it’s also possible they could craft a bill more to their liking. That would likely mean less of a focus on social equity for communities most impacted by the war on drugs.

While GOP members opposed this year’s legalization bill, pushback by many lawmakers centered on particular provisions, such a change by Northam that would’ve allowed regulators to revoke a company’s business license if it interfered with union organizing efforts or failed to pay prevailing wage.

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Photo courtesy of WeedPornDaily.

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