“We have legalized the use of marijuana, but we have not legalized the actual purchase of marijuana,” said Del. Paul Krizek. The Alexandria Democrat made the remark during the first meeting August 17 of the legislature’s Joint Commission on Cannabis Oversight.
“What we need to do is get the safe sales of marijuana out there as soon as possible,” Krizek said.
Medical Dispensaries Push For Head Start
Members of the commission outlined a proposal from the state’s four medical marijuana producers to begin selling while the adult-use marketplace starts.
The medical industry can only sell to patients registered with the state board of pharmacy. It had unsuccessfully pushed for the measure as lawmakers debated legalization last year. But the proposal didn’t make it into the final bill. Lawmakers said they were worried it would give the companies an unfair head start. Lawmakers fretted that could make it harder for small and minority owned businesses to compete later.
But some lawmakers are sounding less comfortable with their decision to legalize marijuana without providing a way to buy it. The only legal way to obtain herb is to grow it or receive it as a gift from someone who did. Even that arrangement is complicated by the fact that it isn’t legal to buy seeds or plants.
Boosting The Illegal Market?
Krizek worries waiting until 2024 to open the recreational marketplace — time lawmakers said they needed — would only boost illegal sales.
“People know it’s legal and they probably think they can buy it legally. And it’s going to become more and more difficult to explain that to the general public,” he said. “We don’t want to facilitate an illegal market out there.”
The medical industry is suggesting that lawmakers give them temporary licenses to sell to adult-use customers. They would each serve as an incubator for five new licensees who qualify for a social equity program. The goal is to direct a portion of new marijuana licenses to Black Virginians. That group has faced disproportionate enforcement of Cannabis laws under prohibition.
“Every other state that has legalized cannabis has leveraged their existing medical market to not just increase access but generate the tax revenue and funds for social equity priorities,” said Ngiste Abebe. Adeb is vice president of public policy at Columbia Care, which controls two Virginia medical marijuana licenses.
Some Skeptical Of Virginia Social Equity Plan
While several members voiced support for the approach, House Majority Leader Charniele Herring, D-Alexandria, said she was skeptical. Herring worries the plan would actually end up hurting the Virginia social equity program. She cited past efforts by the state to help minority and woman-owned businesses. Herring said such efforts haven’t always been particularly successful.
“A minority or woman is brought in and a company says, ‘We’ll incubate you. You’re a partner. Wink,’” Herring said. “Then they get access to a social equity license. It does harm to the whole spirit of what we were trying to do.”
Senator Adam Ebbin, who chairs the oversight commission, called it “an important issue to flag.”
Asked whether he expected to move up retail sales, Ebbin said it was still too early to know. The General Assembly reconvenes for its next regular session in January.