A bill to kick-start adult-use marijuana sales in 2022 was blocked Monday by Virginia Republicans.
On a 5-3 party-line vote, the subcommittee defeated the measure from Democratic state Sen. Adam Ebbin. It had cleared the Democrat-controlled Senate earlier this month.
Republicans claimed they wanted more time “to review how sales would work,” reports the Associated Press.
“I think this is a bigger issue than we can correct in two weeks’ time,” Del. Jeff Campbell (R – Smyth County) claimed. The timid Campbell referred to the amount of time remaining in this year’s legislative session.
Democrats Legalized Weed Last Year
Virginia last year became the first state in the South to legalize possession of small amounts of marijuana, reports the Richmond Times-Dispatch. The effort was led by Democrats, who then had sweeping power. Lawmakers at that time delayed creating the fine points of a new legal market to the current session. That appeared to fail on Monday.
In 2021, the General Assembly – then fully controlled by Democrats – legalized adult possession of up to an ounce of Cannabis. They laid the groundwork for retail sales to begin in 2024. But a reenactment clause in the bill required lawmakers to act again to establish the complex regulatory structure for retail sales.
Ebbin’s bill as it passed the Virginia Senate would have allowed what he called “transitional sales.” Existing medical marijuana providers and a limited number of industrial hemp processors could begin selling adult-use Cannabis in mid-September. That’s more than a year before the full retail market will open in 2024.
House GOP Opts For No Action At All
Both Republicans and Democrats had voiced support for moving up the date for retail sales. They wanted to try to prevent growth in the untaxed market. But a split in the Virgnia House GOP caucus over the issue quickly became clear.
At first, their members filed at least eight obstructionist bills that would have amended the 2021 legislation. Then the GOP House caucus opted not to take any action at all on those House measures before a legislative deadline.
Monday’s action to defeat the Senate bill “carried over” the legislation to 2023.
Democrats Protest Delay
Senate Bill 391 from Sen. Ebbin would have launched sales by medical providers and hemp processors in September. It was the only viable bill on the topic, reports the Times-Dispatch.
The vote happened before the bill even got a full hearing. Several Democrats spoke against the motion to delay the legislation.
Republicans, who took control of the House this year, showed reluctance to move decisively on the issue. They failed to pass a measure of their own.
Meanwhile, Selling The Herb Remains Illegal
Before watching his bill die, Ebbin said the question was whether Virginia’s marijuana sales would be “a regulated, confined marketplace for adults or a foreign-import, crime-subsidization program proliferating in school yards and gas stations.”
Monday’s move means that possession of less than an ounce of marijuana and sharing among adults will remain legal in Virginia. But selling the herb outside of the medical context will still be illegal.
Democratic leaders in the House chided GOP leaders, arguing that failing to launch a regulated market would leave Virginians vulnerable to an unregulated product.
“If we don’t have a bill that gives us a well-regulated, adult-use market amidst the backdrop of legalization in Virginia, we are basically providing a year for the growth and strengthening of the illicit market,” said Democratic Del. Dawn Adams of Richmond.
Virginia NORML: “Incredible Disappointment”
The Virginia chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, supported Ebbin’s bill. Virginia NORML called its failure “an incredible disappointment.”
“The only benefit with the failure of this legislation was to the illicit market,” executive director JM Pedini said.
Pedini said in 2020, Virginia had the fourth-largest untaxed marijuana market in the nation. Virginia Cannabis has about $1.8 billion in annual sales. That’s 3% of the estimated $60 billion national market, according to New Frontier Data’s U.S. Cannabis Report.
“Undoubtedly, that will only grow as we continue to exist in this no man’s land between legalization and retail sales,” Pedini said.
Social Justice Advocates Not So Sure
Meanwhile, Marijuana Justice, a group which supports Cannabis legalization in Virginia, on Monday expressed support for Republicans’ decision.
The group is worried the bill Senate Democrats were considering would allow medical processors an advantage in the new market over social justice licensees. Those are the businesses founded by people impacted by Cannabis prohibition’s racially disparate enforcement.
Marijuana Justice also opposes the creation of new criminal penalties for possession of amounts between an ounce and a pound.
“We saved Black residents of Virginia from being targeted by new possession crimes in Virginia,” Marijuana Justice’s Chelsea Higgs Wise said.