Bill legalizing marijuana in Virginia clears another hurdle with another party-line vote

Capitol Connection

FILE – In this March 22, 2019, file photo, Heather Randazzo, a grow employee at Compassionate Care Foundation’s medical marijuana dispensary, trims leaves off marijuana plants in the company’s grow house in Egg Harbor Township, N.J. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez, File)

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Two days after a Senate panel approved changes to a marijuana legalization bill that would delay retail sales a year past the governor’s proposed target date, the Senate Rehabilitation and Social Services committee advanced the legislation in another party-line vote.

The Senate Rehabilitation and Social Services Subcommittee on Marijuana held two meetings this week to listen to testimony from nearly a 100 people and discuss a proposal for legalization from Northam’s administration.

Northam’s proposal, which was formally introduced in the Senate by Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria) and Senate President Pro Tempore Louise Lucas (D-Portsmouth), aimed to permit legal marijuana sales for Virginians 21 and older by 2023.

The bill originally called for establishing a regulatory system monitored by Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control Authority and a seven member Cannabis Control Advisory Board within the agency that will lead the work and advise ABC’s board.

“This line of business is quite different than what ABC does,” Sen. Jeremy S. McPike (D-Prince William), the chairman of the subcommittee, said Wednesday morning.

Forming a new agency instead of allowing ABC to have oversight of the market will ensure that the governor’s goal to legalize sales by 2023 would be delayed “at least six months,” a representative for Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission said.

The panel later recommended pushing back the bill’s enactment framework a year to 2024, citing the work it will take to establish a new agency. “My sense is that we want to do this right, not faster,” McPike said. 

In the end, the panel recommended adding an amendment to establish a new regulatory agency and mandatory quarterly progress updates. The senators on the panel suggested that if these updates share promising results, legal sales could come sooner than 2024.

The panel’s four Democrats and three Republicans voted along party lines on Wednesday to approve their recommendations and advance the bill to the full committee.

Debate from the rehabilitation and social services committee on Friday centered on other clauses in the legislation, including whether to permit home cultivation and permit localities an opt-out option to have marijuana retailers in their jurisdictions.

An amendment from Sen. Ryan McDougle (R-Hanover) to remove the home cultivation section from the legalization was voted down Friday and the committee also approved its recommendation to give localities an opt-out clause.

The legislation, which also rolled in a bill from Sen. Joseph D. Morrissey (D-Richmond), will now move to the Senate Judiciary committee after Friday’s 8-7 vote. Similar to the subcommittee vote Wednesday, the eight Democrats on the committee voted to advance the bill while all seven Republicans voted against the legislation.

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