Legislation to Legalize Marijuana Retail Sales in Virginia by 2024 Fails!

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Since the final bill to establish a legal market in Virginia failed in 2018, the state will not begin retail sales of marijuana by 2024.

In a party-line vote Tuesday, a House of Delegates subcommittee controlled by Republicans killed a bill sponsored by state senator Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria) that would have allowed recreational sales to begin in 2019.

Adults over the age of 21 in Virginia can possess up to an ounce of cannabis and grow up to four plants in their homes under the current law. To get medical marijuana in Virginia, a doctor’s recommendation is required, but adults cannot legally buy marijuana for recreational use.

The 2021 legislation that legalized marijuana possession included a reenactment clause that called for another vote in the legislature. This would set the stage for the creation of retail regulations.

Despite lawmakers’ efforts to create a framework for the retail market and despite Republicans’ control of the House of Delegates and Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s inauguration, legal sales are not expected to begin until 2024.

Similarly to a bill proposed by Sen. Ebbin last year that also died in the House, this one would have legalized the retail sale of cannabis for recreational use beginning on January 1, 2024, at medical marijuana dispensaries and businesses owned by residents of “historically disadvantaged communities.”

On Tuesday, Ebbin told the subcommittee that his bill would provide a tested product for adults while also taking steps to protect children and that the country was “kind of dragging its feet” on establishing a retail market that could generate hundreds of millions in tax revenue.

In opposition to the bill, Chief Deputy Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry Parker Slaybaugh spoke on behalf of Governor Youngkin.

Slaybaugh told the panel that while the governor has “no position” on the proposal for a legal market, the administration is focused on establishing regulations on synthetically manufactured THC products derived from hemp, such as delta-8-tetrahydrocannabinol.

Slaybaugh echoed comments made by Youngkin in January when the governor said he wanted to sign legislation to crack down on the unregulated synthetic products, but he declined to say whether he would sign a legislative compromise on a new legal market.

Creating a retail market would require approval from Youngkin, who has expressed reservations about the products being “mislabeled, missold, and targeted towards children.”

Advocates and legislators have argued that the problems are intertwined, citing the proliferation of intoxicating hemp products in convenience stores and other shops that are largely unregulated due to the absence of a legal market in Virginia.

The vote on Tuesday will likely postpone consideration of the issue until the 2024 legislative session. In the wake of this year’s November elections, the make-up of the legislature could drastically alter by then.

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