Sorry Virginians, No Recreational Cannabis Sales in Virginia Until the End of 2023 at the Earliest
The earliest Virginians could legally purchase cannabis from licensed stores is June 2023.
There’s about a 60% chance it will be shifted. The only thing that’s certain today is that cannabis dispensaries in Virginia won’t be selling adult-use weed this year—no thanks to the decision made by the House of Delegates subcommittee.
Some days ago, the House of Delegates subcommittee that was tasked with the duty of looking into a bill to allow sales of cannabis in a few months dashed the hopes of thousands of cannabis advocates in Virginia. The subcommittee took a stance against the sales of recreational marijuana in September.
The government of Virginia approved the legal use of recreational cannabis last year, making the state the first southern state to do so. Since then, plans have been put in place to smoothly establish a cannabis market. Last month, the Senate chambers approved a measure to authorize existing medical cannabis and hemp businesses to dive into the proposed recreational market.
The Push To Move The Date Forward
According to the bill approved last summer, recreational sales were scheduled to begin by 2024. The law only makes it legal for adult residents to possess an ounce of cannabis. Cannabis users in the state are also authorized to plant four cannabis plants for self-consumption. The overall bill did not legalize the commercial sales of recreational cannabis but instead gave a stipulated date on when the sector could commence sales.
Early this year, some senators and a few Democratic delegates rallied around to request that the date be brought forward. These lawmakers said that the timeframe between decriminalization and the proposed date is far too long. Before plans could be put into motion by 2024, the black market for adult-use weed would have risen to unfathomable heights. Making consumers exposed to unsafe and untested products.
Delegate Dawn M. Adams said that a bill to speed up the sales process is an excellent idea. He noted that this bill would help properly regulate the recreational market as the new legislation continues to sink in. He emphasized that delaying recreational cannabis sales until 2024 will only strengthen and expand the illegal cannabis market. In other words, the longer it takes for lawmakers to agree to speed up the timeline, the harder it will be for the government to pull down the illicit market. Not to mention that business operators will find it harder to compete with the illicit market.
The GOP ruling has temporarily halted this bill. In Richmond, advocates have been seen and heard clamoring for early sales. Many have tried to make the government know why this delay in sales would shut out small and minority cannabis businesses. Only large-scale companies would be able to compete with the head start the illicit market stands to gain from this delay.
The Future of Adult-Use Cannabis in Virginia
The prospect of any bill springing up in favor of early sales is shrouded in uncertainty. The GOP ruling was the first time the chambers voted on any marijuana bill this year.
Delegate Jeffrey L. Campbell said moments before the vote began that he found it hard to accept that now was the right time for cannabis sales to start in Virginia. He explained that he dissected every aspect of the bill over the weekend, trying to figure out if the pros of approving the bill were worth it. He concluded by saying that the problem on the ground has to be gradually solved. He believes the issue is too complicated to be rushed through in less than a month.
The Republican-led House has reiterated its commitment to implementing cannabis legislation. Last year, reports showed that GOP lawmakers opposed most cannabis policies proposed by Democrats in the chambers. Provisions involving social equity, community development using diverted taxes, and more were thrown out.
The GOP leaders and the Governor of Virginia, Glenn Youngkin, disclosed that the law requires a few modifications before the commercial market can be set up.
A spokesman for House speaker Todd Gilbert, Garren Shipley, announced last Monday that the lawmakers needed more time. He likened the current issue to buying a used vehicle. He explained that, like these old vehicles, the law has in-depth problems that keep on revealing themselves once one has been solved. He added that the government would need more than one session to get everything in order.
Senator Adam P. Ebbin, the sponsor of the early sales bill, expressed his frustrations at the GOP’s blocking the measure. He says their rationale for rejecting it is not enough. He also pointed out that the significant parts of the bill’s content had been drafted since last year.
Ebbin explained that the lawmakers had over six months to read the bill and either proffer modifications or come up with another measure. This rejection will leave the commercial, recreational market unregulated and unfair in the long run. He added that illicit cannabis sales would blow up like a balloon.
On the other hand, Chelsea Higgs Wise, Executive Director of Marijuana Justice, noted that the delegates’ decision was the right one. She added that it’s best for commercial sales to be reconsidered next year. The Marijuana Justice organization is one of the opposing agencies that has been arguing that the proposed changes to the bill wouldn’t benefit minority business owners.
Higgs Wise says the newly added time can be used to organize disadvantaged communities and equity applicants to ensure they’re rightly positioned by the time sales start.
Lawmakers across both parties have failed to reach a concession on implementing the recreational cannabis legislation.
The GOP lawmakers disclosed that the issue would be revisited in early 2023. This means that mid-2023 is the earliest retail sales can be launched. Note that when early sales begin, only existing cannabis businesses will be allowed to sell to the public. While licensed retail adult-use stores would join in by 2024.
Until then, Virginia cannabis enthusiasts are advised to either grow their own weed, get a few hits from friends, or apply for a medical permit to purchase it from one of the state’s medical cannabis dispensaries.