Va. House Subcommittee Rejects Weakening GOP Marijuana Retail Sales Legislation!
Given the political likelihood that the Virginia General Assembly won’t legalize marijuana for retail sales this session, a Republican lawmaker advised his colleagues to simply ask the state’s Cannabis Control Authority to begin developing regulations for a retail market that lawmakers could consider the following year.
Del. Keith Hodges, R-Middlesex, said he has never been a strong supporter of legalizing marijuana usage for recreational purposes in a speech to a House of Delegates panel run by the GOP on Tuesday evening.
However, he said, Virginia’s unwillingness to permit retail marijuana sales — despite making it legal to grow marijuana at home and possess it in tiny amounts — has led to public safety dangers from unregulated products that are more widely available than ever.
Hodges declared, “If we do nothing, we have a problem on our hands. Additionally, Virginians must be shielded from the black market. Despite the administration’s reluctance to endorse legal marijuana sales, Greg Habeeb, a former Republican delegate turned lobbyist who works for the Virginia Cannabis Association, said the watered-down law should be absolutely non-controversial and something even Gov. Glenn Youngkin could support.
All that this measure does, according to Habeeb, is require the [Cannabis Control Authority], which you all have supported and paid, to carry out its duty of informing you guys of how the market would develop the following year.
The bill’s approval was not unanimously voted upon. Republicans opposed it and Democrats supported it, and it was defeated 5 to 2. Another Republican-sponsored bill that would have created a retail marijuana market rather than just laying the groundwork for one in the future was also rejected by the same subcommittee.
The state Senate, which is controlled by Democrats, is currently working on its own marijuana sales legislation, but the House’s Tuesday night vote is a sure sign that the 2023 legislative session will be another year of inaction on the subject.
Del. Chris Runion, R-Rockingham, said the bill did nothing to address unlawful or hazardous items now being marketed in Virginia as he filed a motion to oppose the legislation that just urged the cannabis board to start crafting guidelines for how a retail marketplace would operate.
We do have a number of measures that address it, Runion added. “Therefore, I believe that should be our focus.” Runion did not provide a justification for why the General Assembly cannot adopt both legislation, establishing a retail market while simultaneously enforcing restrictions on mainly unregulated goods like delta-8 made from hemp, which, despite not technically being marijuana, can nonetheless cause intoxication in users.
The Youngkin administration is supporting legislation that would place stronger restrictions on companies that sell those goods, with a focus on safeguarding kids from THC-infused edibles that sometimes come in brightly colored but ambiguously labeled packaging.
There is still a chance that supporters may attempt to link the two concerns since the hemp regulatory legislation appears to be moving progress in the Senate. The Youngkin administration has opposed that strategy.
Parker Slaybaugh, chief deputy secretary of agriculture and forestry, said during a committee hearing that lawmakers should “ideally analyze the choice on whether to authorize retail sales and whether to clean up dangerous hemp products separately.”
The state’s issue with uncontrolled intoxication products, according to many cannabis industry representatives, is a direct result of politicians’ failure to establish a state-sanctioned market with safer, lawful products.
A lobbyist for Jushi, a business that holds one of the few medical cannabis licenses in Virginia and sells recreational cannabis in states that permit it, highlighted that nothing in the trimmed-down, one-page Hodges bill would lead to the opening of any additional outlets.
In Virginia, we take things slowly, said Hunter Jamerson, a Jushi representative. “I believe this is that gradual process.”As of Wednesday afternoon, two hemp regulation measures in the House were undecided after being shockingly defeated 11-9 in the Courts of Justice Committee. The measure might be brought back for another vote since the committee is still holding sessions.
By combining the hemp and marijuana measures, it may be necessary for the two parties to come to an agreement later on in the session. However, it could also increase the likelihood of failure on both fronts if Republicans continue to oppose retail marijuana sales and Democrats refuse to back independent hemp legislation.
The primary cannabis legislation in the Senate is currently being considered by the Finance and Appropriations Committee, which will convene on Thursday. The Senate marijuana measure was changed at the demand of progressive groups to allow Virginians serving time in prison for marijuana-related charges to request that the courts reevaluate their sentences.
That clause has been emphasized by some Democrats, who believe it is necessary for fairness to Black communities that have been disproportionately affected by marijuana prohibition. Tuesday is the cutoff day for each chamber to complete work on its own bills.