Legislators in Virginia Consider Revising Marijuana and Hemp Product Laws During the 2023 Session

Virginia Lawmakers Consider Updating Marijuana And Hemp Product Laws In 2023 Session

An array of marijuana products, all strictly regulated by the Virginia Board of Pharmacy, are now available to anyone with an easy-to-obtain medical cannabis license at a slick new store called Cannabist in Richmond’s Carytown shopping district.

And just across the street, a vape shop proudly displays a sign for largely unregulated delta-8, which, like marijuana, makes users euphoric but does not violate current marijuana laws because it is produced from hemp plants.

Several non-psychoactive CBD products derived from hemp are available in the grocery store nearby.

Growing up to four marijuana plants in one’s own residence is now permitted for individuals who choose a more hands-on approach. You need only locate seeds, the sale of which is still banned.

Even though possession of small amounts of marijuana is now legal, there is still no means to legally purchase marijuana for recreational purposes.

Virginia’s stance on cannabis is more than a little bit convoluted and nonsensical, even in the eyes of many politicians who create the state’s legislation.

Most people, I believe, just want to know the facts. “We haven’t done it,” said Senate Majority Leader Dick Saslaw (D-Fairfax). Weirdly, you can legally possess it but not sell it.

It is unclear if the two parties, which are sharing power in the state’s divided government, will come to any substantial agreements on clarifying Virginia’s stance on marijuana during the General Assembly session that began last week.

Further, it is unclear if Republican Governor Glenn Youngkin, a devout Christian who is rumored to be considering a presidential run, would sign a bill that may be used against him in the future to label him as a “legal pot guy.”

Youngkin avoided the question last week about whether he would approve a measure that would legalize marijuana for retail sale in Virginia.

Youngkin told reporters at the Capitol, “We’re seeing products in stores that are being mislabeled, and we’re seeing things that are oriented towards minors. We want to make sure the enforcement and consumer protection laws are straightened up with regards to hemp and delta-8.” This legislation is my primary concern. Other bills? I haven’t seen any yet.

Executive director of the pro-legalization group Virginia NORML JM Pedini said the legislature may either “choose to continue handing control of cannabis in the commonwealth to unlicensed, unregulated companies” or find a way forward on retail sales for adult use.

If “public safety is a true priority” for either chamber, “sales at regulated dispensaries will commence as soon as possible,” as Pedini put it.

‘left with This Mess’

Republican lawmakers have introduced many proposals that would legalize marijuana for recreational use beginning in 2024 or 2025; however, House of Delegates Speaker Todd Gilbert (R-Shenandoah) says he is unsure of what the General Assembly would do on the issue.

Gilbert said the fault lay with the Democrats, who had legalized marijuana in 2021 but failed to establish clear regulations for a retail market before losing their majority in the legislature in the following year’s elections.

They passed a law making it lawful, and then they walked away without planning to implement the law. Which, as Gilbert put it, is “simply a ridiculous approach to making public policy.” And now look at this jumble that’s been left for us to clean up!

Virginia Lawmakers Consider Updating Marijuana And Hemp Product Laws In 2023 Session

Gilbert said that House Republicans will keep talking about the subject, but that they are hesitant of going forward with a hastily drafted plan.

The speaker expressed concern over whether or not the topic was worth spending time on without knowing the governor’s intentions.

There was some disagreement among Democrats over whether or not the state should compensate minority areas hit most by harsh drug laws when they debated how to set up legal marijuana sales.

Black Virginians, who have been disproportionately affected by marijuana prohibition, have prompted progressive lawmakers and activists to worry about the optics of permitting huge firms to dominate the retail market at the expense of smaller entrepreneurs.

In order to enable Black Virginians, and especially those with misdemeanor marijuana convictions, to participate in the new legal market, Democratic senators proposed the creation of “social equity licenses.”

The Virginia Legislative Black Caucus has stated that “socially responsible” marijuana legalization is a top priority, mentioning it at a press conference last week.

“Our attitude on marijuana has been consistent from the start: We need to legalize marijuana in the correct way,” stated Sen. Jennifer McClellan (D-Richmond). It’s been said, “They’re fighting over equity, but they don’t even understand what it is.”

However, Republican marijuana measures introduced in the House include wording encouraging a role for “historically economically disadvantaged communities” in the retail market, albeit excluding the social equity notion. Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria) has introduced a retail sales bill with the same name.

Whether or whether to let the state’s four registered medical cannabis companies begin “transitional” recreational sales while the state works to establish a new retail licensing procedure is another important question addressed by the different retail marijuana measures submitted for the 2023 session.

Some proposed legislation would legalize medical dispensaries as general dispensaries as soon as this year, a move that has been met with criticism from those who fear it would give a small number of companies an unfair advantage in the retail sector.

Attempts have been made to provide a more simplified approach to cannabis regulation in Virginia through a few laws.

Delegate Roxann Robinson (R-Chesterfield) and Senator Barbara Favola (D-Arlington) have proposed legislation that would create the Virginia Cannabis Control Authority to take responsibility for the state’s medical cannabis program from the Board of Pharmacy.

Moreover, under Ebbin’s proposed legislation, “controlled hemp products” would no longer fall under the jurisdiction of the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, which is responsible for ensuring the safety of food in the state.

‘The Sky Isn’t Falling

Recent recommendations from a Youngkin administration-led hemp task committee have called for the establishment of a registration system for retailers of hemp goods. To that end, a bill has been presented that would impose a $1,000 registration fee on enterprises and a $10,000 maximum penalty on stores that violate the new regulations.

Some in the hemp business have voiced harsh disapproval of the proposal.

“This puts every single retail organization in Virginia that wants to sell hemp goods in a very perilous situation and a lot of risks,” said Jason Amatucci, head of the Virginia Hemp Coalition. They are being excessive in the face of an issue that is not quite as severe as they make it out to be. No matter what anyone tells you, the sky hasn’t fallen.

Hemp regulation legislation is supported by the government, and its primary backer, Republican Senator Emmett Hanger of Augusta, has stated that the measure “is not onerous.”

It’s as simple as filling out the forms correctly,” Hanger added. As the project leader put it, “having a methodical manner of making sure all is well is the fundamental essence of what we’re attempting to do.”

House Majority Leader Terry Kilgore (R-Scott) introduced a bill to regulate hemp production, which would expand the state’s definition of marijuana to include all goods containing a specified level of naturally occurring or synthesised THC.

Due to the death of a Spotsylvania County youngster who allegedly overdosed on delta-8 THC candies, the public’s attention has been focused more closely on this product. More than half a dozen pupils at a middle school in Fairfax County reported feeling ill after eating delta-8 gummies in October, prompting the school to call for multiple ambulances.

Amatucci responded to worries about kid safety by pointing out that many other legal products, including as alcohol and over-the-counter medications, can also be dangerous if not stored properly and ingested by youngsters.

Amatucci argued that it would be counterproductive to shut down a whole industry because one child had improperly engaged in it.

Del. John McGuire (R-Goochland) introduced a bill that would restrict the sale of all delta-8 items, a stricter measure than the one preferred by the Youngkin administration.

The primary change in cannabis-related legislation during the 2023 session might be the state cracking down on delta-8 and hemp, with no progress toward legal sales of marijuana, if Youngkin or the Republican-led House decides not to embrace a retail sales plan.

In the 2021 Virginia elections, marijuana legalization was a minor topic. But in the high-stakes legislative elections this autumn that will decide partisan control for the final two years of Youngkin’s tenure, members of the General Assembly may be forced to justify their viewpoints to voters.

According to Virginia NORML president Pedini, “Governor Youngkin’s lack of guidance on this topic has created a nearly impenetrable roadblock for House Republicans.” His recent words have left Virginians, even his fans, perplexed. “While it’s logical to presume that he’s aware voters on both sides of the aisle majority support legalization,”

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