The Virginia Senate on Tuesday approved bills to start adult-use marijuana sales and establish a statewide psilocybin advisory board while moving the psychedelic to a lower schedule under state statute.
The adult-use cannabis sales legislation from Sen. Adam Ebbin (D) cleared the full Democratic-controlled chamber in a 24-16 vote. The psilocybin measure, sponsored by Sen. Ghazala Hashmi (D), passed 25-15. They both now head to the GOP-run House of Delegates for consideration.
The path to the Senate floor was relatively quick for each proposal, as lawmakers were up against a crossover deadline to advance the legislation to the opposite chamber by the end of Tuesday.
Here are the main details of each bill:
Ebbin’s measure would allow recreational cannabis sales to begin on January 1, 2024. The legislature approved a bill to legalize possession and home cultivation of marijuana by adults 21 and older in 2021, and this new measure would create a regulatory framework for a commercial market.
Sales would take place through existing medical cannabis dispensaries as well as at new businesses run by people who live in “historically economically disadvantaged communities.” Those operators would receive training and support from current cannabis companies.
My legislation establishing a regulated adult-use cannabis market for adults has passed the Senate on a bipartisan vote. It’s time to take action to protect consumers, get these products away from kids, and invest in diverse Virginia businesses. On to the House! pic.twitter.com/nwD0v4EXdn
— Adam Ebbin 🇺🇦 (@AdamEbbin) February 7, 2023
The bill, which cleared the Senate Rehabilitation and Social Services Committee late last month, also includes provisions for the resentencing of people currently incarcerated for cannabis convictions.
Marijuana products would be subject to a 21 percent excise tax. Localities could impose an additional three percent tax.
Tax revenue from cannabis sales would support reinvestment programs for historically economically disadvantaged communities, pre-k education for at-risk youth and addiction prevention services.
The recreational marijuana market would be regulated by the independent Cannabis Control Authority.
Meanwhile, the legislation also seeks to establish regulations for hemp-derived cannabinoid products such as delta-8 THC, including testing and labeling requirements.
“This bill fixes a major public health, consumer safety and public safety issue—and it does what more than 60 percent of Virginia voters want us to do: Regulate these products, ensure they’re safe for consumers and also generates hundreds of millions of dollars from revenue for the Commonwealth,” Ebbin said ahead of the vote in a floor speech on Tuesday.
— Jennifer McClellan (@JennMcClellanVA) February 7, 2023
There have been open questions about how the state legislature would address cannabis commerce for adults in the 2023 session after lawmakers approved the possession legalization bill in 2021. That legislation included sales provisions but they were subject to reenactment, and lawmakers in 2022 did not act on the issue under the new Republican governor, Glenn Younkin, and GOP-controlled House of Delegates.
The House has since been a sticking point for advocates, with legislators largely divided on how to proceed with a possible commercial market.
“Virginians are ready for a legal cannabis market that’s properly regulated for consumer and public safety,” JM Pedini, executive director of Virginia NORML and development director at NORML, told Marijuana Moment on Tuesday. “Senator Ebbin’s bill does exactly that. Cannabis is legal for adults in the Commonwealth and they ought to have access to products that are safe, convenient, and affordable.”
“While SB1133 passed the Senate with bipartisan support, it faces an uphill battle in the House of Delegates, which for the second consecutive session has so far failed to advance any measure to control the retail sale of cannabis to adults age 21 and older,” they said. “Given Virginians’ overwhelming support for the issue, it’s astounding that the House majority—and the Youngkin administration—aren’t working to move the marijuana market behind an age-verified counter and out of the hands of unlicensed, unregulated illicit operators.”
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Psilocybin advisory board and rescheduling
Hashmi’s legislation that also passed the Senate on Tuesday would create a psilocybin advisory board to advise on the issue, while also moving the psychedelic from Schedule I to Schedule III under state law.
It moved through the Senate Education and Health Committee last week with nearly unanimous support.
This latest development comes about a month after a separate Virginia House of Delegates panel rejected a measure to legalize psilocybin for therapeutic use for people with serious conditions who obtain a doctor’s recommendation.
Hashmi’s legislation is more narrowly tailored than a proposal she filed last session to decriminalize psilocybin altogether.
The advisory board that’s being proposed would be required to “develop a long-term strategic plan for establishing therapeutic access to psilocybin services and monitor and study federal laws, regulations, and policies regarding psilocybin,” the bill text states.
The governor would be responsible for appointing 12 members to the board, including public health and safety officials, an addiction medicine specialist, a psychologist, a physicians specializing in post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a clinical researcher, a mycologist and more.
While it wouldn’t allow legal therapeutic use of psilocybin, the bill states that the advisory board would be tasked with analyzing “scientific studies and research on the safety and efficacy of psilocybin in treating mental health conditions and on the requirements, specifications, and guidelines for providing psilocybin services in Virginia.”
“There’s very compelling research coming from Johns Hopkins, as well as other research institutions, that demonstrate that psilocybin has an immediate and long-lasting impact on individuals who are suffering from anxiety and depression,” the sponsor said on Tuesday. “And it has been shown to be particularly effective for our military veteran population suffering from PTSD.”
Members would need to submit a report on its findings to the governor and legislature by December 1 of each year.
If enacted, the measure would amend state statute to place psilocybin in Schedule III. Possession of substances in that schedule is considered a Class 1 misdemeanor punishable by a maximum one year in prison and a fine of up to $2,500.
Possession a Schedule I drug, where psilocybin is currently listed, is a Class 5 felony that carries up to 10 years in prison and up to a $2,500 fine.
The Virginia legislature has also taken up a number of other cannabis measures in recent weeks, including those that deal with cannabis product safety, inhalable products, expanding cultivation operations and establishing a “Cannabis Incubator Project.”
Late last month, the Senate approved legislation to decouple Virginia’s marijuana industry from the federal tax code. State medical and recreational cannabis businesses would be able to take deductions at the state level that they’re currently barred from doing federally under the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) code known as 280E.
Image element courtesy of Kristie Gianopulos.