Virginia House Committee Sends Marijuana Sales Bill To Floor Vote, With Competing Measure Pending In Senate - Read of Green
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Virginia House Committee Sends Marijuana Sales Bill To Floor Vote, With Competing Measure Pending In Senate

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A House panel in Virginia has voted to advance amended legislation that would legalize retail marijuana sales in the state, sending the bill to the chamber floor. A separate bill with somewhat different provisions is proceeding in the Senate, however, setting up potentially contentious negotiations as the session proceeds.

The House General Laws Committee on Tuesday voted 10–8 to report the measure, HB 698, from Rep. Paul Krizek (D), with one member abstaining. In its current form, the bill would allow licensed retailers—existing medical marijuana dispensaries as well as dozens of equity-focused microbusinesses—to open for adult-use sales on January 1, 2025, with more outlets slated to launch over the course of the year.

Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R), however, said last month that he doesn’t have “any interest” in legalizing sales under either of the Democrat-led plans.

“This essentially will establish a framework for the creation of a retail marijuana marketplace in the commonwealth,” Krizek said in brief comments at Tuesday’s House committee hearing, noting that a subcommittee he chairs that heard the bill last week made a number of amendments in a substitute bill.

While the text of that substitute is not yet available, it made a handful of changes to the underlying bill, such as increasing the amount of money that existing medical marijuana operators would need to pay to certain microbusinesses as part of an accelerator program in order to begin sales next January.

Microbusiness licenses would need to be at least two-thirds directly controlled by people who meet certain social equity criteria, such as being from historically low-income areas or having been directly impacted by cannabis prohibition. Under a subcommittee-approved amendment, priority would be given to people meeting multiple criteria.

The competing bill in the Senate, SB 448, from Sen. Aaron Rouse (D), would take a different approach, most notably by opening the retail license application window at the same time for all businesses, including existing medical operators. That’s designed to give all stakeholders—including equity-run businesses and farmers in the hemp industry—a fair chance to enter the market before it’s dominated by existing operators.

While that bill also contains microbusiness licenses that would prioritize certain applicants, some critics have complained that the bill’s criteria don’t include people directly impacted by criminal convictions.

Groups representing hemp farmers in the commonwealth support the Senate bill at this point, as it would allow entrepreneurs trying to get into the marijuana industry to open alongside medical marijuana businesses instead of entering the market later on.

Justice advocates also preferred the Senate bill initially, but changes in both bills have led some to switch their support to the House measure.

Among those who now favor HB 698 is Chelsea Higgs Wise, of the group Marijuana Justice. Wise had been critical of the bill in the past for its prioritization of medical marijuana businesses—a provision she strongly opposed in a recent Marijuana Moment op-ed—but has said the latest version makes meaningful strides toward equity by specifically prioritizing people with past cannabis convictions and ensuring a source of startup funding for some operators.


Marijuana Moment is tracking more than 1,000 cannabis, psychedelics and drug policy bills in state legislatures and Congress this year. Patreon supporters pledging at least $25/month get access to our interactive maps, charts and hearing calendar so they don’t miss any developments.

Learn more about our marijuana bill tracker and become a supporter on Patreon to get access.

Existing medical operators would have the option of opening for recreational sales on January 1 only if they paid $400,000 apiece to each of six microbusinesses. The amount was initially $200,000, but the House subcommittee doubled it at Wise’s urging last week.

Wise told Marijuana Moment after Tuesday’s committee vote that she still wants to see the new provisions in writing but nevertheless applauded its advancement to the House floor.

The Senate measure, for its part, took its current form after lawmakers rolled a bill from Sen. Adam Ebbin (D) into Rouse’s SB 448. The latest version would license some businesses later this year, but retail licenses wouldn’t be available sometime in 2025, meaning a later launch than under the current House proposal.

One issue some critics have with the latest version of the Senate bill is its imposition of a number of new criminal charges around marijuana, including at least one that would create a mandatory minimum sentence. Wise and some other advocates said the change was a dealbreaker for them.

The Virginia chapter of the advocacy group NORML has generally supported both bills, though Executive Director JM Pedini has suggested friendly amendments along the way.

Pedini, who is also the development director for the the national NORML organization, has been consistent in advocating for what they describe as a clean, palatable bill that most quickly opens legal stores and that is most likely to make it past the governor.

Use, possession and limited cultivation of cannabis by adults is already legal in Virginia, the result of a Democrat-led proposal approved by lawmakers in 2021. But Republicans, after winning control of the House and governor’s office later that year, subsequently blocked the required reenactment of a regulatory framework for retail sales. In the interim, illicit stores have sprung up to meet consumer demand.

Democrats’ victories last November to clinch control of both legislative chambers have some hopeful the state could enact cannabis sales provisions this year. But that requires building consensus among Democrats in the legislature while also avoiding a possible veto from the governor—or galvanizing enough lawmakers in the polarized state to overcome a veto.

When he was first elected, Youngkin said he was “not against” allowing commercial sales categorically. He expressed that there were certain Democratic “non-starters,” such as provisions setting labor union requirements for marijuana businesses—and he wanted to address concerns from law enforcement—but he generally indicated that there was a bill he could support.

That expectation has been tempered during the beginning of the new year, however, with some—including Wise at Marijuana Justice—predicting the governor will veto any legal sales bill that lawmakers send him.

A sales bill did advance through the Democratic-controlled Senate last session, but it stalled in committee in the House, which at the time had a GOP majority.

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Source: Marijuana Moment

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