Efforts to tweak Virginia’s cannabis laws have reached an impasse in the state’s general assembly, with a senior Republican lawmaker saying last week that the clock is ticking for legislators to get something done before the session ends.
As reported by the Associated Press, Terry Kilgore, the majority leader in Virginia’s House of Delegates, said last week that he does not expect the House to vote on its own measures before the Tuesday deadline for each chamber to complete work on its own legislation.
“We want to get it right. There’s a lot of regulation, enforcement… so there’s just a lot of questions, and you’re running out of time,” Kilgore said last Wednesday, as quoted by the AP.
Kilgore’s Republican colleague, House Speaker Todd Gilbert, was more blunt in his assessment of the situation.
The whole space is a bit of a mess right now,” Gilbert told the AP.
Virginia became the first state in the south last year to legalize recreational marijuana for adults—but that came at a time when the Commonwealth had a Democratic governor and the party controlled the general assembly.
Now, a year later, the state is led by Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin, while the GOP controls the House of Delegates. Democrats continue to hold the majority in the state Senate.
Virginia’s Cannabis Laws Have Been a Focus for Months
Youngkin said last month before taking office that he “will not seek to overturn the law on personal possession,” but he expressed concerns over the impending commercialization of pot in Virginia, which is not scheduled to begin until 2024.
“When it comes to commercialization, I think there is a lot of work to be done. I’m not against it, but there’s a lot of work to be done,” Youngkin told Virginia Business. “There are some nonstarters, including the forced unionization that’s in the current bill. There have been concerns expressed by law enforcement in how the gap in the laws can actually be enforced. Finally, there’s a real need to make sure that we aren’t promoting an anti-competitive industry. I do understand that there are preferences to make sure that all participants in the industry are qualified to do the industry well.”
Earlier this month, the Associated Press reported that Republicans there “filed at least eight bills that call for amendments to the law that legalized adult possession of up to an ounce of marijuana and laid the groundwork for retail sales to begin in 2024.”
The GOP lawmakers “drafted bills that would move up the start date for retail sales and get rid of a provision that would give licensing preference to people who’ve been convicted of marijuana crimes,” per the AP.
But now with Virginia’s General Assembly at the halfway point of the current session, time is running out for Republicans and Democrats to strike a deal.
The AP reported Thursday that lawmakers from both sides of the aisle “have expressed support for moving up the date for retail sales to try to prevent growth in the illicit market,” but that “the two sides do not agree on how to reinvest tax revenues from marijuana sales or on social equity provisions that would give advantages in the licensing process for marijuana businesses to people and communities that have been hurt by old marijuana laws.”
The legislation that was signed into law last year by then-Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam “called for 30% of tax revenues to go the Cannabis Equity Reinvestment Fund, which would funnel the money to predominantly minority communities disproportionately affected by the war on drugs,” according to the AP, which noted that a bill offered up this year by the Republican leader in the state Senate would have directed that money instead to the state’s general fund, but the proposal was nixed by Democrats in the chamber.