The Republican Plan to Defund the State’s Marijuana Department!

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The new state agency established to regulate marijuana legalisation in Virginia would be defunded under a spending plan drafted by the Republican-led House of Delegates.

The Republican Party has blocked plans to begin retail sales of recreational marijuana for the second legislative session in a row, and now they want to eliminate over 70% of the Cannabis Control Authority’s budget over two fiscal years. It shows that House Republicans aren’t going to change their minds any time soon.

Acting CCA Director Jeremy Preiss said in an email to colleagues on Wednesday that no one had been briefed on the potential $13.4 million cut.

He warned that the proposed changes could have a negative impact on public health by reducing efforts to regulate medical cannabis and prevent problems like impaired driving and youth substance misuse that have been linked to marijuana legalization.

Preiss expressed alarm over the size of the reductions. The Cannabis Control Commission’s capacity to accomplish these crucial goals would be severely hampered by drastic reductions in funding. We continue to have faith that the General Assembly will make the right decision to finance the CCA’s budget in its entirety and protect the agency’s efforts to improve public health and safety.

Chair of the House Appropriations Committee and Republican from Virginia Beach, Barry Knight, denied an on-camera interview to discuss the cuts he has proposed. Over the course of several texts, he claimed ignorance of the circumstances surrounding the request for the change as well as the identity of the person making it.

Whoever it was who put it there, I don’t know who they are. No need to spend money if we are not planning to increase the size of this issue, Knight stated on Wednesday.

Both Speaker of the House for the Republicans, Todd Gilbert, and House Republican Caucus Spokesperson, Garren Shipley, were clueless as to who had actually suggested the budget cuts.

Governor Glenn Youngkin’s proposed set of changes did not include the budget cut.

When questioned whether or not the administration was behind the budget reductions, Youngkin spokesman Macaulay Porter remained silent.

This is only one of several points of contention between the House and the Senate budgets that will be ironed out in private over the next few days.

The Senate Democrats, on the other hand, advocated giving the CCA an extra $6 million. There will be 28 new roles created at the agency as part of the plan to roll out the state’s framework for regulating the cannabis industry.

Senator Adam Ebbin (D-Fairfax) argued that the hike might not be necessary after his bill was killed by a 5-3 party-line vote in a House panel on Tuesday. Upon becoming law, the bill would have legalized recreational marijuana use in Virginia beginning on January 1, 2024. It also established a tax system and mandated product safety testing.

Voters “should bear that in mind when they vote in November,” Ebbin urged, “because the Republican party in the House of Delegates has been an obstruction to legal sales for cannabis.”

Every seat in the House of Representatives is up for election in autumn, which could significantly alter the make-up of both houses.

When the Democrats were in control of the state legislature in 2021, they passed a law making it legal for adults to own and produce small amounts of recreational marijuana, but they did not address the issue of how it would be sold to the public.

When the Republican Party retook the House and won statewide offices later that year, the delay proved to be a significant obstacle. Since then, Governor Youngkin has stopped interfering with the legal marijuana industry.

Youngkin’s Chief Deputy Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry, Parker Slaybaugh, testified before a House subcommittee on Tuesday, saying, “The Governor has not taken a position specifically on the retail piece of this legislation, but, what he has said over and over is we are focused on cleaning up the illegal hemp and delta-8 sales that are going on right now throughout the commonwealth.”

It’s possible that the CCA will also play an important role in the eventual regulation of those hemp goods.

According to Senator Emmett Hanger (R-Augusta County), his bill would require the FDA to develop regulations establishing per-package limitations on THC, the psychoactive component in cannabis responsible for its intoxicating effects. Hanger speculated that this would alter as talks with the House progressed.

Though he is opposed to legalizing marijuana for recreational use, Hanger is cautious to reduce funding for the CCA because of the agency’s important role in policing the industry.

When asked if he thinks the House measure goes too far, Hanger responded, “I’m not sure. To be honest, I haven’t really considered the figures just yet.

I think the CCA will serve a purpose in the near future with regard to medicinal marijuana, and perhaps in the distant future as well, with regard to the regulation of other items that may or may not be decriminalized in the future.

Hanger voted against a last-ditch effort to allow adult-use marijuana sales to continue this legislative session. Senate Democrats attempted to use his bill as a vehicle to introduce an amendment that would have given the CCA authority to draught regulations for the retail market during the off-season and provide recommendations to the General Assembly at the 2024 session.

On Wednesday, both the House and Senate voted in favor of a less politicized law. It does away with the Virginia Board of Pharmacy and replaces it with the Cannabis Control Authority as the regulatory body for medical marijuana in the state.

Chairman Knight is confident that the House proposal will be sufficient to keep things as they are and to manage the medical program, while Senator Ebbin is less confident.

To raise their workload, it would be counterproductive to reduce their budget, as Ebbin has pointed out.

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