Recreational pot sales in Virginia will have to wait until at least next year, after Republican lawmakers in the commonwealth shot down a bill on Monday. This continues the saga of cannabis setbacks in the commonwealth.
The Democratic-controlled state Senate last week passed the bill, which would have launched cannabis sales on September 15.
But the bill flamed out in the House of Delegates, where Republicans hold the majority, with lawmakers “arguing that there is not enough time to perfect the complex legislation, while promising to address it next year,” the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported.
A House subcommittee voted 5-3 to wait until next year to take up the bill.
The outcome speaks to the uncertainty surrounding the new cannabis law, and underscores how much the political landscape has changed since last year, when Virginia became the first state in the south to legalize recreational pot.
At that time, Democrats held majorities in each chamber of the general assembly. The legalization that they passed was then signed into law by a Democratic governor, Ralph Northam.
But in November, Republican Glenn Youngkin won the open governor’s seat, while the GOP took back the majority in the state Senate.
As the Richmond Times-Dispatch explained, when they held majorities in 2020, “Democrats in the House and Senate could not come to an agreement on how to structure the legal market and deferred the work for this year,” and then “faced an unexpected turn of events when the GOP took control of the House in the November elections.”
Youngkin and the newly empowered Republicans have said they do not intend to scrap the part of the law that legalizes personal possession, but it is unclear what he and other members of the party intend to do about cannabis sales.
“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 said in an interview prior to taking office.
“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.”
The bill to move up the start date for cannabis sales passed by a vote of 23-16 in the state Senate last week.
The newly proposed start date of September 15 would have been a significant change from the original start date of January 1, 2024.
The bill would have allowed medical providers and hemp processors to begin recreational sales on the new start date, according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch.
Republicans in the Virginia Senate bristled at the 400-page bill.
“It’s a bunch of crap. It’s still a mess. It’s still a mess, and we are getting hit with a 400-page substitute at 1:30 today,” GOP state Senator Mark Peake said last week.
Todd Gilbert, the House Speaker, blamed Democrats, saying they left the cannabis law in a state of disarray last year.
“We are left having to clean up their mess, and we will not make it worse by rushing to fix it,” Gilbert said, as quoted by the Richmond Times-Dispatch.
The bill to move up the start date to September 15 was sponsored by Democratic state Senator Adam Ebbin, who said that the measure “ensures consumers can purchase safe, regulated products legally.”