The legalization of recreational cannabis in Virginia could do wondrous things for the Old Dominion, where Senate Bill 391 was passed in a historic bipartisan vote on Feb. 16. However, before the commonwealth can generate the $1.3 billion that Headset analysts predict by the year 2025, lawmakers must first clarify which (if any) of the recently proposed amendments will be adopted into official law.
It seems that Republicans are not entirely satisfied with some of the details contained in Virginia’s adult-use cannabis law, with at least eight measures being shoved under lawmakers’ noses. Republicans are hoping that the 2021 legal cannabis law—legislation that permits adult cannabis possession of up to an ounce and establishes the guidelines for retail sales to commence in 2024—will be revised before its official enactment.
A reenactment clause contained in Virginia’s recreational cannabis law requests the legislature to cast another vote in 2022 on an intricate regulatory structure for retail sales. This provides Republicans with a window of opportunity to amend the licensing process, mainly in terms of tax revenue allocation and in regards to which license applicants will be granted priority over others.
“The overriding top-tier concern is that we have to have a regulatory structure in place for retail sales that does not encourage the black market,” said a spokesperson for House Speaker Todd Gilbert, Garren Shipley.
Last year, when recreational cannabis in Virginia was legalized, the law was rigidly enacted within strict party lines. While legalization was backed by Democrats, the majority of Republicans voted against it. Back then, Democrats dominated both the House and Senate. Republicans have assumed control of the House since the November election, at which point they claimed a 52-48 victory over Democrats. Nonetheless, Democrats still maintain a 21-19 majority in the Senate.
A multifaceted bill that seeks to radically transform Virginia’s adult-use cannabis market is being sponsored by Republican Del. Michael Webert. During last November’s Election Day, he ran for reelection to the Virginia House of Delegates and won to represent District 18.
The delegate-sponsored bill would make a number of changes to Virginia’s adult-use cannabis law. Perhaps one of the most significant changes would transfer 30% of adult-use retail cannabis tax revenue from a Cannabis Equity Reinvestment Fund to a reserve for rebuilding dilapidated school buildings across the state.
Webert’s bill also seeks to remove a provision that would prioritize social equity license applicants. However, his bill retains a handful of 2021 regulations that would prioritize people who live in economically distressed areas.
“I believe that if you commit a crime and serve your time, you should have a seat at the table, but it shouldn’t put you at the front of the line,” added Webert, whose bill also aims to cut the overall tax rate on Virginia’s retail cannabis sales from 21% to 10% in an attempt to deter black market purchases. “We are trying to ensure that the money goes to where it’s most needed to be in a good school environment, to provide a good, safe school building and an atmosphere in which a child can learn will be a great asset for that person’s future,” he added.
Another proposed measure submitted by Sen. Tommy Norment would pour 30% of cannabis sales revenue into the state’s general fund, as opposed to the reinvestment fund. This suggestion was featured in the 2021 law as a means of reinvesting in communities that have been unfairly impacted by strict drug laws—particularly communities of color.
“I’m really struck by this attempt to defund equity and reinvestment when we have committed to legalizing in a way to bring some kind of benefit to people impacted by the war on drugs,” Chelsea Higgs Wise, executive director of Marijuana Justice, said about both bills, which have been heavily criticized by social justice lobbyists.
In addition to the aforementioned bills, a handful of Republican-backed bills suggest selling cannabis to currently operating medical cannabis vendors as a way of launching retail sales next year instead of in 2024. Various other GOP bills emphasize the importance of granting farmers who have been legally cultivating hemp in Virginia (as well as farmers who grow hemp in economically disadvantaged regions across the state) with preference for cannabis cultivation licenses.
Meanwhile, a House of Delegates subcommittee voted against legislation on Monday, Feb. 28 that would have allowed the state’s retailers to begin legally selling recreational cannabis this September. After passing the Democratic-steered Senate, the legislation to launch cannabis sales in Virginia this year perished on a party-line vote from opposing Republican forces.
Democratic panel members proceeded to give their GOP colleagues an extra nudge to reassess the situation and consider the many benefits associated with a legal market, such as black market dismantling and positive economic impact. “The longer we wait to have a regulated market, the harder it will be to compete with that illicit market,” Del. Dawn Adams (D-Richmond) concluded after the legislation fell flat.
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