VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) — As Virginia loosens its grip on marijuana laws, Virginia Beach voted Tuesday night unanimously to form a cannabis advisory task force.

The vote was 10-0. Councilman Michael Berlucchi wasn’t at Tuesday’s meeting.

In July of last year, the state made it legal to grow plants for private use, but recreational sales are not expected for a few more years.

Council members say it’s important to be prepared.

“I would say if and when it’s coming, but it’s really more when, there’s not much if left,” said Council Member Guy King Tower.

Tower has much of the resort area in his district. He says he, and Council Member Michael Berlucchi, wanted to create this task force to get ahead.

“We thought rather than waiting for the state to develop a full-blown program, we’d get in place a group of people who are one interested, two knowledgeable and three reliable in terms of giving us information that we may need to make good decisions,” said Tower.

The task force’s job will be to review all federal and state cannabis-related laws and make recommendations on how to regulate the industry in the resort city. It’ll be comprised of 16 people, including community members and subject-matter experts.

  • A city council member
  • A Resort Advisory Commission representative
  • A resort business professional
  • A commercial real estate professional
  • A healthcare professional
  • A Minority Business Council representative
  • Two cannabis industry representatives
  • A Planning Department representative
  • An Economic Development representative
  • A member from law enforcement
  • A civic league representative
  • A representative from Virginia Beach City Public Schools
  • Three citizens from across the city

Council members say they want to protect the public and residents’ quality of life. The city won’t have anything to do with how marijuana is regulated, but they will have a say in where these shops are popping up.

“We’re still going to have to deal with a few issues that are quite local the main one being zoning, land use and those type of issues,” said Tower.

Virginia NORML Executive Director JM Pedini says canna-tourism is already popular in the commonwealth, so it’s a good thing that Virginia Beach is looking at how this influx of canna-tourists might impact the area.

“It’s important for this group to also take a look at what’s already happening within the city,” said Pedini. “There are a myriad of unsilenced operators selling unregulated products to consumers who largely believe that since its legal in the commonwealth these products are in fact safe and tested.”

Pedini says there have already been a few studies done at the state level on how cities can prepare, but it’s still up to the general assembly to decide when legal retail access will begin.

“It’s important to understand that we already regulate cannabis in Virginia for medical use and adult use regulation won’t look much different aside from how the licenses are awarded,” said Pedini.

Report to the Virginia General Assembly and Governor of Virginia

Recreational cannabis sales are expected to start in 2024 in Virginia, but the General Assembly has yet to vote on the exact rules for how sales will go down.

In July of 2021, Virginia made it legal to possess up to an ounce of marijuana and grow up to four marijuana plants per household for private use. Public consumption is still illegal.

Council Member Tower says they are still working on who exactly will be filling the spots on the task force, so their first meeting date hasn’t been set yet.

Check for the latest updates.