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Republican Lawmakers in Virginia Have Drafted New Cannabis Legislation

Virginia adult-use cannabis law isn’t even a year old, but changes are likely afoot. 

Many things have changed since the time Gov. Ralph Northam. Ralph Northam signed the bill that made Virginia the first south-facing state to allow recreational marijuana. 

Virginia Republicans now control one-half of the legislature, and have one of their own in the governor’s mansion. As such, GOP lawmakers there have “drafted bills that would move up the start date for retail sales and get rid of a provision that would give licensing preference to people who’ve been convicted of marijuana crimes,” according to the Associated Press.

The AP said that they have “filed at least eight bills that call for amendments to the law that legalized adult possession of up to an ounce of marijuana and laid the groundwork for retail sales to begin in 2024.”

The final meaning of this new law on cannabis remains ambiguous. Republicans including the newly elected GOP Governor are not sure what that will mean for cannabis law. Glenn Youngkin, have thus far said that they do not intend to undo legalization––despite most of the party being opposed to the effort to end the prohibition on pot last year. 

In an interview published last month, Youngkin said point-blank that he “will not seek to overturn the law on personal possession,” but he expressed less certainty about the regulation of cannabis sales.

“When it comes to commercialization, I think there is a lot of work to be done. I’m not against it, but there’s a lot of work to be done,” Youngkin told Virginia Business. “There are some nonstarters, including the forced unionization that’s in the current bill. Law enforcement has raised concerns about how this gap can be closed. Finally, there’s a real need to make sure that we aren’t promoting an anti-competitive industry. I do understand that there are preferences to make sure that all participants in the industry are qualified to do the industry well.”

Northam signed the law into law last spring. Since July 1, 2021 it is legal for Virginians aged 21 or older to possess up to an ounce of marijuana. But pot sales remain illegal under the law, and the newly created Cannabis Control Authority, the regulatory agency overseeing Virginia’s new cannabis industry, has said that legal sales will not begin before 2024.

New cannabis laws also include social justice provisions. This law aims to exonerate and resentencing any previous low-level marijuana convictions.

“What this really means is that people will no longer be arrested or face penalties for simple possession that follow them and affect their lives,” Northam said after signing the bill into law last year. “We know that marijuana laws in Virginia and throughout this country have been disproportionately enforced against communities of color and low-income Virginians.”

However, this is also an area in which Republicans and Democrats are at odds.

It Virginia MercuryLast month, it was reported that the committee of senators from each state and members of the House began to make recommendations to other legislators on how to start selling marijuana earlier than 2024. The committee members could not agree to resentence marijuana convictions because of lack of time.

The Washington Post reported over the weekend that some of the bills offered up “focus on the resentencing process for marijuana-related offenses and record expungement.”

One bill introduced by a GOP member of the House of Delegates would nix “a provision that would give licensing preference to applicants who were convicted or related to someone who was convicted of a marijuana-related crime,” while maintaining “other portions of the social equity provision, such as giving preference to applicants who live in communities disproportionately impacted by drug law enforcement, or who graduated from a historically Black college or university in the commonwealth.”