Virginia Could Push Recreational Cannabis Sales Up to 2023

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In 2021, Virginia became one of four states to legalize the possession of recreational cannabis for adults over 21. This was a huge step forward for the state, making it one of the first Southern states to legalize recreational cannabis. Originally, the law would have legalized possession and sales in 2024. With pressure from activists and an amendment from then Governor Ralph Northam, D, possession legalization moved forward to July 1, 2021. 

But sales didn’t receive the same luxury. As written, the law won’t allow legal recreational cannabis sales until 2024. Still another two years away. But the Virginia legislature’s Joint Commission on Cannabis Oversight recently voted in favor of moving legal sales forward.

Sales Push

The Joint Commission on Cannabis Oversight held a meeting on December 16, 2021. There, they voted and debated several topics, including the start of recreational cannabis sales. In a vote of 7-1, with one abstaining, the Joint Commission recommended sales begin in 2023 instead of 2024. This would push up sales a year. Additionally, sales would start at already established medical cannabis dispensaries with trained staff in appropriate locations. 

The Commission also discussed moving sales forward to July of 2022. However, that was knocked down. The commission decided lawmakers would need more time to create the rules than six months would allow them. 

“We’re pleased an agreement was reached on a policy recommendation to expedite adult-use sales,” said JM Pedini, the executive director of Virginia NORML. “Virginians 21 and older ought to have access at the already-operational dispensaries sooner rather than later, and they have been very clear in their demands to move earlier the date of sales.”

But just because the Virginia Joint Commission on Cannabis Oversight voted to move the beginning of recreational cannabis sales forward to 2023 doesn’t mean it will happen. Both the House and the Senate must vote on a reenactment clause for cannabis sales. This clause became part of the legalization bill last year. Low-level possession and small numbers of home cultivation legalized in 2021 and stayed out of the reenactment clause. So there is no fear of lawmakers removing legalized cannabis rights from people. 

Party Changes

At the polls in 2021, all three major legislative entities (the House, the Senate, and the Governor) changed from democratically controlled to republican controlled. Governor Northam wasn’t able to rerun for election as the Virginia state law doesn’t allow for governors to serve consecutive terms. Now, legal sales are up in the air following the party change. 

New House Speaker Todd Gilbert, R, said Democrats left several unsolved issues, including recreational sales.

“They didn’t do it the right way,” Gilbert said. “If there is a right way to do it. So, we’re going to have to fix all that and we’re going to work with the Democratic Senate to fix all that. And I imagine the roadmap that they laid out as to how that would occur, if they did it in the future, is going to change dramatically.” 

Incoming Governor Glenn Youngkin, R, said during his election campaign he’s “never met anybody who habitually used marijuana,” and became successful. Additionally, Youngkin described legalization as “another problem that’s going to be dumped at my feet.”

More recently, however, Youngkin explained that he wouldn’t ‘overturn’ what cannabis legalization there currently is in the state. There is doubt though when it comes to sales. 

“I’m not against it, but there’s a lot of work to be done,” Youngkin said. He also brought forward “concerns expressed by law enforcement in how the gap in the laws can actually be enforced.”

Future

The next steps for legal recreational cannabis sales in Virginia will be a difficult one. Each Democrat and Republican party member has opposing views on cannabis. The Virginia General Assembly will definitely see lots of media attention and pressure from activists to move sales forward. As more information becomes available, we will update you with the latest. 

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