RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — The Virginia Senate passed a bill to start recreational sales of marijuana this September.
If signed by Gov. Glenn Youngkin as written, the measure would allow certain medical providers to sell cannabis to adults starting Sept. 15 until the full legal market opens in 2024. Under the current law, only adults with a medical license can purchase marijuana from a dispensary.
The bill would require pharmaceutical and industrial hemp processors to pay a one-time fee to set up shop for recreational sales. Pharmaceutical processors would have to pay $6 million and hemp processors would have to give $500,000 to the Department of Taxation.
The legislation still needs to go through the House of Delegates, where it is expected to face changes from the Republican-led chamber.
The bill, which passed Tuesday on a bipartisan vote, establishes the regulatory framework for the recreational market after Virginia lawmakers legalized simple possession and limited home cultivation for adults last year without one in place.
Retail sales were delayed until 2024, with lawmakers including a reenactment clause to the bill requiring that a second vote be held during the 2022 legislative session to move forward with the legal recreational market.
Newly empowered House Republicans criticized the effort to legalize marijuana in Virginia, but the caucus did not move any of the chamber’s legislation out of committee.
Before the start of the legislative session, House Speaker Todd Gilbert (R-Shenandoah) said Democrats in the Senate left many unresolved issues after deciding to pass the bill without a regulatory framework, claiming the existing law simply enhances the unregulated marijuana market.
“We were in special session for a year or two, they [Democrats] put together a cannabis bill that was how many thousands of words and lines and pages. They had no idea what was in it. It’s a bunch of crap. It’s still a mess,” Sen. Mark Peake (R-Lynchburg) said after a massive floor substitute to the bill was introduced.
Senate Minority Leader Tommy Norment (R-James City) reiterated the concerns he expressed last year, saying the omnibus bill was too large to consume.
“I have not been a fan of this bill from the beginning because it’s an omnibus bill that attempts to address so many diverse circumstances that does not provide the opportunity for a fair and reasonable analysis and debate,” state Sen. Norment said, adding that he feels the legislation should have been broken up into smaller bills.
State Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria), the sponsor of the bill, said changes were made to remove language that made way for unions to be required once retail sales start in 2024. He told the chamber that opening up the legal market for all adults would ensure that regulated, safe products would be available and reduce crime by cutting into the unregulated market.
“This legislation is the vehicle to license new businesses and regulate equitable adult-use market,” Ebbin said, noting that the Cannabis Control Authority would oversee legal sales once it is established. The bill also requires the companies that receive licenses to be incubators for at least five companies granted a license through the measure’s social equity provision.