Virginia is one step closer to becoming the first state in the South to allow legal retail sales of cannabis. A Senate committee approved a bill on Friday that would create an adult-use cannabis market in the state by 2025.
Bill would allow sales to start in 2025
The bill, sponsored by Sen. Aaron Rouse, D-Virginia Beach, would allow the state Cannabis Control Authority (CCA) to begin issuing licenses for retail sales on July 1, 2025, with retail sales starting on Jan. 1, 2025. The bill also creates licenses to allow multiple cannabis businesses, such as cultivation, processing, testing, and distribution.
The bill would allow cities and counties to opt out of retail cannabis stores through a voter referendum. The bill would also require the CCA to adopt regulations by Dec. 31, 2024, including limits on the amount of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive compound in cannabis, per package.
The bill is a result of merging two similar proposals from Rouse and Sen. Adam Ebbin, D-Alexandria, who have been working on the issue for months. The bill passed the Senate Rehabilitation and Social Services Committee by a 10-5 vote, with two Republicans joining the Democratic majority. The bill now heads to another Senate committee for further review.
Bill aims to address social equity and public health
Rouse said his bill is a culmination of all the work that many people have done to create a legal cannabis market in Virginia that is fair, safe, and responsible. He said his bill aims to address the social equity and public health aspects of cannabis legalization, as well as the economic opportunities and tax revenue it could generate.
The bill would allocate 30% of the cannabis tax revenue to a Cannabis Equity Reinvestment Fund, which would support communities disproportionately impacted by the war on drugs. The fund would provide grants for education, workforce development, health care, and other services.
The bill would also allocate 40% of the cannabis tax revenue to a Cannabis Prevention and Treatment Fund, which would support substance abuse prevention and treatment programs, mental health services, and public awareness campaigns. The fund would also provide grants for research on the health effects of cannabis.
The remaining 30% of the cannabis tax revenue would go to the general fund.
Bill faces uncertain future in House and governor’s office
The bill still has a long way to go before becoming law. It has to pass the full Senate, the House of Delegates, and the governor’s office.
The House of Delegates has its own version of a cannabis legalization bill, sponsored by Del. Charniele Herring, D-Alexandria, which is expected to be heard in a committee next week. The House bill differs from the Senate bill in some key aspects, such as the timeline for retail sales, the tax rate, and the social equity provisions.
The biggest obstacle for cannabis legalization, however, may be Gov. Glenn Youngkin, who has repeatedly said he is not interested in creating a legal market for recreational cannabis sales. Youngkin, a Republican who took office earlier this month, has not said whether he would veto or sign any cannabis bill that reaches his desk. He has expressed concerns about the impact of cannabis legalization on public safety, youth access, and mental health.
Virginia became the first state in the South to legalize possession of up to one ounce of cannabis and home cultivation of up to four plants for adults 21 and older in 2021. However, lawmakers left the details of creating a regulated retail market for cannabis unfinished, and pushed the issue to this year’s legislative session.
Virginia is one of 18 states, plus the District of Columbia, that have legalized cannabis for adult use. According to a recent poll, 68% of Virginia voters support legalizing cannabis for recreational use.