Virginia lawmakers again unlikely to set up marijuana sales!

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In a historic first for the South, Virginia passed a law in 2016 that decriminalized marijuana possession for adults and made it legal to grow one’s own supply.

However, legislators did not fully implement a framework for retail sales of recreational products. Last year, partisan gridlock prevented any progress on the issue, and that trend doesn’t appear to be breaking in 2023.

Sales could have begun in 2019 at both existing medical marijuana dispensaries and new retail businesses in communities that have historically been economically disadvantaged, but a Republican-led House panel defeated the main surviving retail bill on Tuesday.

Before the subcommittee voted against the bill, its sponsor, Senator Adam Ebbin, said, “We are kind of dragging our feet on establishing a retail market that could provide hundreds of millions of dollars in tax revenue, could provide a tested product for adults, and could be kept out of the hands of children.”

Some say the state’s indecision has led to an increase in the black market for marijuana and the proliferation of potentially harmful, unregulated hemp-derived products that have made people, including children, sick.

According to Trent Woloveck, chief strategy director for Jushi, a multistate publicly traded cannabis company with permission to operate a grower-processor facility and medical dispensaries in Virginia, “having legal possession without legal procurement just doesn’t make sense.”

This same House committee earlier this session killed a bill that would have simply instructed the Virginia Cannabis Control Authority to create regulations for the retail marketplace. The regulations would have had to be revisited by the General Assembly the following year before they could have gone on sale in stores if the bill had passed.

The lobbyist for the Virginia Cannabis Association, Greg Habeeb, testified that he believed the amended bill would receive unanimous approval and might even have the backing of Republican Governor Glenn Youngkin. “There’s not much hope for a full-fledged adult-use bill to pass,” Habeeb said in an interview, referring to the bill’s failure to pass.

Although his administration has opposed bills that would establish retail sales, Youngkin, a possible 2024 presidential candidate, has not commented on the issue directly. Last month, he told reporters that controlling the spread of hemp-derived products is a top priority. Some of these products contain delta-8 THC, a psychoactive chemical cousin of the main intoxicating ingredient in marijuana.

My focus is on a bill that would establish standards for the sale of delta-8 and hemp in the United States and would ensure the safety of these products for consumers. Youngkin, whose press office declined to elaborate on his position Tuesday, said, “Right now, we have products that are mislabeled and missold and targeted towards children.

This year, legislators have introduced a few bills to establish consumer protection mechanisms for the sale of unregulated, intoxicating cannabinoid products. Two bills have a chance of passing before the end of the session, and they are both backed by Republicans: House Majority Leader Terry Kilgore and Senator Emmett Hanger. The two together would mandate certain standards for packaging, labeling, and quality control evaluations.

A conference committee, a subset of legislators who meet to negotiate a middle ground when there are substantial differences between the two chambers’ versions, appears to be the next logical step.

Kilgore said of his bill at a recent committee hearing, “I think it’s very similar to Sen. Hangers. I’m aware that there are some distinctions, and there may be more; however, at this point, we’re just trying to move things along.

While Hanger agreed that it was premature to draw any firm conclusions about “how similar the similarities are,” he did not object to keeping the discussion going.

This exchange was typical of the contentious, rambling, and vague nature of other cannabis-related committee hearings this session.

Democratic senators have admitted that the first legalization bill was rushed through in a chaotic fashion, but they have placed the blame for this session’s failure to advance the issue squarely on Youngkin’s shoulders.

Democratic Senator Scott Surovell admitted that the party’s first bill “was complicated and we needed to spend more time figuring it out” after taking office. Then we elected a new governor who is reluctant to discuss it. And until the governor takes charge, none of these issues can be solved.

Conservatives in Virginia have blamed Democrats for the state’s current predicament, despite the fact that they lack the support to reverse the state’s legalization of marijuana.

Habeeb, a former member of the Republican Party, claims that Republicans “did not pass the bill to legalize cannabis without creating a cannabis market.” That’s the deal they were given, and they have to make the best of it.

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