Virginia House, Senate Approve Separate Weed Sales Bills

The Virginia Senate and House of Delegates have approved competing bills to regulate and tax recreational marijuana sales, more than two years after the state legalized the possession of cannabis by adults. Each bill now heads to the other chamber of the state legislature, where lawmakers are expected to make several amendments to the measures.

Both bills legalize retail sales of cannabis to adults aged 21 and older with a scheduled start date of January 1, 2025, according to a report from the nonprofit cannabis advocacy group the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML). In the House, HB 698 from Delegate Paul Krizek would levy a tax of 9% on cannabis sales, which would be exempt from normal state and local retail sales taxes. A separate bill from state Senator Aaron Rouse, SB 448, would add a 16% tax to cannabis sales on top of the regular state and local retail sales taxes.

NORML Development Director JM Pedini, who uses the pronoun they, testified before both chambers of the legislature in support of the bills. In the Senate, they asked lawmakers to amend SB 448 to remove penalties for people who make cannabis products such as baked goods or tinctures that are intended for personal use and for possessing legal amounts in public.

HB 698 was passed by delegates in the House on Monday by a vote of 52-48. In the Senate, SB 488 was approved by a vote of 21-18 on Tuesday. The two bills will each now head to the other legislative chamber for consideration.

Lawmakers in both the House and Senate are expected to amend the bills by substituting the version each chamber has already passed. The legislation would then head to a conference committee where representatives of each chamber will work to come to a consensus on a compromise measure.

“The real work will be done in conference committee, at which point conferees must decide if these are simply messaging bills, or if they intend to send Governor Youngkin something palatable enough for him to even consider not vetoing,” said NORML’s Pedini, who also serves as the executive director of Virginia NORML.

Weed Possession Legalized in 2021

Legislation passed in July 2021 legalized the possession of cannabis by adults aged 21 and older, but a reenactment clause requiring a second vote to authorize retail sales was not taken up after Republicans took control of the state legislature later in 2021. Last year, Republican Glenn Youngkin said that he was not interested in legalizing cannabis sales.

“Governor Youngkin has stated that he is not interested in any further moves towards legalization of adult recreational-use marijuana, so I wouldn’t expect that during his administration,” Joseph Guthrie, commissioner of the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, said at a public meeting in June 2023, according to a report from the Washington Post.

Lawmakers also heard from opponents of legalizing sales of recreational weed in Virginia including, as might be expected, representatives of law enforcement. In a letter to the legislature from the Virginia Sheriff’s Association, the Virginia State Police Association, the Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police and the Virginia Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators, police officials told lawmakers that they are opposed to a regulated adult-use cannabis market.

“Legalizing retail sales will undermine the work Gov. Youngkin’s administration has undertaken to improve behavioral health in the Commonwealth,” the letter states, according to a report from local media. “We collectively appreciate the focus on the ‘Right Help Right Now Plan’ and the strides we have made in better serving our communities with additional behavioral-health resources.”

The letter also warned that a legal recreational marijuana market will not eliminate illicit sales of marijuana in Virginia.

“States with legal retail cannabis have failed to extinguish the cannabis black market,” the letter states, “while also seeing that cannabis tourism creates a nexus for the international drug trade that is dominated by organized crime, and an increase in illegal operation following legalization.”

But Pedini argues that since the possession of cannabis was legalized, the unlicensed cannabis market has increased significantly.

“Absent a legal marketplace, Virginia’s illicit market has since ballooned from $1.8 billion in 2021 to $2.4 billion in 2023,” said Pedini. “Unfortunately, consumers don’t know whether they’re getting a safe product or one contaminated with potentially dangerous adulterants. Unregulated marijuana isn’t lab tested for purity and it isn’t sold in packaging that is both childproof and not appealing to children.”

“Ultimately, Governor Youngkin will have to decide if he’s more interested in allowing unlicensed, unregulated operators to continue controlling cannabis in the Commonwealth or if he’s finally ready to extend the same commonsense provisions already used to regulate the legal sale of medical cannabis in Virginia to adult-use retail,” they added.

The post Virginia House, Senate Approve Separate Weed Sales Bills appeared first on High Times.


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