House Republicans Block Bill to Accelerate Retail Marijuana Sales

AP
Washington Hispanic:

Republicans in the Virginia House of Representatives on Monday blocked a measure that would have allowed limited retail sales of recreational marijuana to begin later this year.

In a 5-3 party-line vote, the subcommittee voted to continue through 2023 the measure that had passed the Democratic-controlled Senate earlier this month, effectively defeating it. The action marks the end of the road for the issue this year, said the bill’s sponsor, Democratic Sen. Adam Ebbin.

“House Republicans missed an opportunity to crack down on the illicit market and provide a fair, regulated market for adult use,” he said in an interview.

In 2021, the General Assembly, then entirely controlled by Democrats, legalized adult possession of up to an ounce of marijuana and laid the groundwork for retail sales to begin in 2024.

But a recreation clause in the legislation required the General Assembly to act again to establish the complex regulatory structure for retail sales.

Ebbin’s bill, as passed by the Senate, would have allowed for what he called “transitional sales,” allowing existing medical marijuana providers and a limited number of industrial hemp processors to begin selling recreational marijuana in the middle of the year. September, more than a year before the full retail market had opened in 2024.

Both Republicans and Democrats have at various times voiced their support for bringing forward the date of retail sales to try to prevent growth in the illicit market.

But a split on the issue among Republican members of the House of Representatives, newly in control of that chamber after the November election, became apparent as this year’s legislative session unfolded.

After its members introduced at least eight bills that would have amended the 2021 legislation, the House Republican caucus opted not to take any action on those House measures before a legislative deadline.

“I think this is a bigger problem than we can fix two weeks from now,” Republican Jeff Campbell said Monday before the committee moved to pass the legislation.

House Speaker Todd Gilbert tweeted that the Democrats “made a huge mess when they legalized marijuana without putting in place any regulatory or retail structures. We’re left with having to clean up your mess and we won’t make it worse by rushing to fix it.”

Monday’s vote came before the bill got a full hearing. Several Democrats spoke out against the measure.

“If we don’t have a bill that provides us with a well-regulated adult use market amid the backdrop of legalization in Virginia, we are essentially providing a year for the illicit market to grow and strengthen,” said Dawn Adams.

Currently, Virginians can legally share marijuana, grow it at home with certain limits, and seek a medical cannabis registration card to purchase from a medical provider.

JM Pedini, executive director of the Virginia chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, said Virginia had the fourth-largest illicit cannabis market in 2020, valued at $1.8 billion.

“This is a real disappointment for Virginians who were loudly calling for retail access to begin before 2024. This is a true failure by the legislature to ensure consumer and public safety,” Pedini said.

Meanwhile, a coalition that had opposed the bill celebrated its defeat.

“This is a victory for public safety and families across Virginia. A new for-profit addiction industry is the last thing our state needs as we grapple with the opioid crisis,” Dana Schrad, executive director of the Virginia Association of Police Chiefs and Foundation, said in a statement. “We congratulate our legislators for making the right decision.”

Smart Approaches to Marijuana, a nonprofit organization that opposes legalization, said it would be ready to “fight back against commercialization next year, when another attempt to legalize sales will be made.”