RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Virginia won’t begin retail sales of marijuana by 2024 after the last remaining bill to set up a legal market failed.
A Republican-controlled House of Delegates subcommittee voted 5-3 along party lines Tuesday to kill legislation from state Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria) that would have paved the way for recreational sales to begin next year.
Under current law, people 21 and over in Virginia can have up to an ounce of cannabis on them or grow up to four plants in their homes. Virginians can buy marijuana for medicinal purposes with a prescription, but there’s no way for adults to purchase it for recreational use.
The bill passed in 2021 to allow marijuana possession included a reenactment clause requiring the General Assembly to approve the measure again and establish a regulatory framework for retail sales.
Lawmakers set a 2024 target date for legal sales, but efforts to create a framework for the retail market have continued to stall in the legislature after Republicans won control of the House of Delegates and Gov. Glenn Youngkin took office.
Sen. Ebbin’s bill, similar to one he proposed last year that met the same fate in the House, would have allowed retail recreational sales to begin Jan. 1, 2024, through medical cannabis dispensaries and businesses owned by those living in “historically disadvantaged communities.”
“We are kind of dragging our feet on establishing a retail market that could provide hundreds of millions in tax revenue,” Ebbin told the subcommittee Tuesday, adding that his bill would also provide a tested product for adults while taking steps to protect children.
Chief Deputy Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry Parker Slaybaugh spoke in opposition to the bill on behalf of Gov. Youngkin’s office.
While the governor has “no position” on the proposal for a legal market, Slaybaugh told the panel, the administration is focused on establishing regulations on hemp-based THC products that are synthetically manufactured such as delta-8
Slaybaugh reiterated remarks Youngkin made in January when the governor said he wanted to sign legislation to crack down on the unregulated synthetic products but declined to say whether he would sign a legislative compromise on a new legal market.
Youngkin, who would need to sign off on creating a retail market, cited concerns that the products are “mislabeled, mis-sold and targeted towards children.”
Advocates and lawmakers have argued that the issues go hand-in-hand, saying the intoxicating hemp products have proliferated in convenience stores and other shops and remain largely unregulated because there’s no legal market in Virginia.
Tuesday’s vote likely pushes back the issue until the 2024 General Assembly session. By then, the legislature could look entirely different as all 140 assembly seats are on the ballot this November.