Virginia General Assembly panel recommends speeding up retail marijuana sales to 2023

Marijuana in Virginia

FILE – In this Sept. 30, 2016, file photo, a marijuana bud is seen before harvest at a rural area near Corvallis, Ore. On Wednesday, Oct. 13, 2021, the same day that Jackson County declared a state of emergency amid a sharp increase in illegal cannabis farms, police raided a site that had about two tons of processed marijuana and 17,500 pot plants. (AP Photo/Andrew Selsky, File)

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — The General Assembly’s Cannabis Oversight Commission has agreed to recommend that Virginia speed up the timeline for retail sales of recreational marijuana to 2023.

Under a Democratic-controlled state legislature, Virginia legalized simple possession and limited home cultivation for adults earlier this year. However, retail sales were delayed until 2024, with lawmakers including a reenactment clause to the bill requiring that a second vote be held during the 2022 legislative session to move forward with the legal market.

During a meeting on Thursday, members of the Cannabis Oversight Commission raised the possibility of accelerating legal sales to July 1, 2022, with the state’s Board of Pharmacy overseeing the market. Staff helping the commission informed members that the Cannabis Control Authority, the regulatory agency set up under the legislation, would need until at least 2023 to set regulations for the legal market.

The proposal, which the new General Assembly would need to approve, did not get much support after questions emerged over whether the Board of Pharmacy would be able to regulate the market for six months.

Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria), who sponsored the Senate’s version of the bill, then looked around the room and asked lawmakers on the Oversight Commission to raise their hands if they support recommending that Virginia move up retail sales of recreational marijuana to Jan. 1, 2023.

While it was unclear which members shared their backing for the new timeline, Ebbin said during the meeting that seven members raised their hands, one did not and one member abstained.

The shift to legalization was expected to be a few years down the line but instead came only a year after marijuana was decriminalized in Virginia. Republicans criticized the effort, calling it a rushed process, while Democrats argued racial disparities in enforcement existed even with decriminalization

With Republicans now in control of all three statewide offices and control of the General Assembly now split, GOP lawmakers could vote down any of the commission’s proposals. Gov.-elect Glenn Youngkin said during his campaign that he would not look to repeal legalization and Republican lawmakers have signaled they wouldn’t seek to roll back Virginia’s existing law.

House Speaker-designee Todd Gilbert (R-Shenandoah) said Democrats in the Senate left many unresolved issues with the legislation after deciding to move forward without a regulatory framework, claiming the existing law simply enhances the black market for marijuana. 

“They didn’t do it the right way,” Gilbert said of Senate Democrats after Youngkin’s victory. “If there is a right way to do it. So, we’re going to have to fix all that and we’re going to work with the Democratic Senate to fix all that. And 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. 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.” 

Ebbin said he expected Thursday’s meeting to be the final one for the commission, but members expressed concerns with several provisions within the legislation that the panel did not cover or make recommendations on, including changes to the existing open container law and other proposed reforms.

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