VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) — State leaders met with business leaders on Friday to discuss what they think will happen in this year’s 2019 General Assembly session that begins next Wednesday. 

State Senator Tommy Norment (R-James City County) is recognized as one of the most powerful leaders in the General Assembly, and he supports decriminalizing small amounts of marijuana.

“I maybe looking to do something in the budget for I just got a poll back 71 percent of Virginia supports the decriminalization of marijuana.”

The issue will likely come up again in this year’s General Assembly and Delegate Barry Knight (R-Virginia Beach) supports decriminalization too, “I don’t know if it is ready for prime time, but I’m fine with it, and making it like a parking ticket.  Low levels of marijuana, I’m fine with that.”

What could hold it back? All 100 seats in the House of Delegates, and all 40 State Senate seats are up for election in November. Senator Norment says, “I don’t know if we can get it through the House of Delegates.  We are going to give them encouragement … it is an election year, and some of my more conservative friends could be too worried about wandering too far.”

Norment says transportation and continued efforts to diversify our local economy will be part of the session too. 

“We have (to put forth legislation) to continue to develop the Hampton Roads economy, and move away from the total dependency on the federal dollars and the military, which I’m so appreciative of.”

Delegate Knight also impressed with the proposal for the Dome site and hopes to get state money to help pay for it, “I may put in legislation to see if the General Assembly will let this Dome site have unrealized tax dollars.”

The Pamunkey Indian Tribe’s possible $700 million casino in Downtown Norfolk  in Downtown Norfolk  may have no better friend in Richmond than Delegate Knight. 

“I’m on board with this project,” Knight said. “It’s all about economics, and I believe it is going to be a rising tide for the entire region.” 

Knight says he will offer a bill saying to the federal government the General Assembly is on board with casinos in Hampton Roads and Virginia.

“Norfolk is going to zone the land,  we are OK with it.  It shows a positive aspect to the federal government that there is a compact between Virginia, and the Indian tribe, and let them go forward.” Knight says this approach and legislation could fast track final approval from 4 to 5 years to 2 to 3 years. 

Make no mistake, this is a process says Senator Norment, “I think it is an introductory process. This is one of those subjects that legislators are going to have to be educated on.”

Norment points out the Pamunkey Indian Tribe is not alone as competing casino development plans await,

“We got a group in Southwest Virginia that wants to build three casinos, and to put one in Hampton Roads.”  Norment pointed out a casino could help with jobs in an area that desperately needs them.

On top of the casinos there are gaming bills to support legalized sports betting, revolution horse racing, possible slot machines. Oh, and let’s not forget the November elections too.

“It is going to cause some legislators to pause in an election year that Virginia is going into the gaming business full board,” Norment added. 

Norment and Knight were speaking at the 7th annual Kaufman & Canoles Business Leaders Forum.  Firm Partner Attorney Jeff Marks organizes these annual events.

“This is an opportunity to connect our clients with senators and delegates who make things happen in the Commonwealth of Virginia and to have that interaction,” Marks said.

Stay tuned. There are lots of issues, lots of legislative bills, lots of political arguments, and it all begins in Richmond next Wednesday when Virginia’s General Assembly reconvenes.