RICHMOND, Va. — Virginia is moving toward a future where the sale of recreational marijuana is legal. A bill on this issue passed its first hurdle in the Virginia General Assembly. Senators passed legislation that speeds up the process. If it continues on the same track, you could be walking into a dispensary as early as September 15.
But can this bill get through easily or will it face roadblocks? Let’s Verify.
- Virginia General Assembly
- Chelsea Higgs Wise, Executive Director of Marijuana Justice
- J.M. Pedini, Executive Director of Virginia NORML, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws
“This bill faces an uphill battle in the Republican-controlled House of Delegates,” said J.M. Pedini. The bill, sponsored by Alexandria Senator Adam Ebbin, would clear the way for the sale of recreational marijuana at existing medical marijuana dispensaries in September, 16 months before the intended launch date of January 2024.
“This ensures consumers can purchase safe, regulated products legally,” Pedini said in a statement to WUSA9.
Pedini claimed the initial 2024 timeline presented too long of a gap and helped fuel the illicit marijuana market.
“In 2020, Virginia had the fourth largest illicit market in the nation valued at over $1.8 Billion,” they said.
Chelsea Higgs Wise with Marijuana Justice disagreed.
“The unlicensed market or the informal market actually decreases when we make an accessible entry point to the market," she said. "That means including social equity operators on day one."
According to the bill, an Equity and Diversity Support Team will be established to offer training and opportunity for women, minority and veteran-owned businesses. But Wise fears the sped-up process will make it difficult to achieve those goals of equity.
“We are really worried that Black communities, Latin X communities, indigenous communities will be the bargaining chip that doesn't make it to these final negotiations,” said Wise. “All of the marijuana bills were put into one large bill before passage. So, we now have to think about what happens to the resentencing parts that we do want to happen for those that are still incarcerated because of marijuana offenses. So, if the bill doesn't pass, even though we are not for the early start, we still have our loved ones that could be compromised away if there's nothing that comes out of the session.”
Pedini says Democrats missed a real opportunity to button this issue up in 2021 and now face a divided government. The bill now goes to the GOP-controlled house where its future is uncertain.
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