Governor-elect Glenn Youngkin said that he does not intend to re-criminalize minor marijuana possession, but has reservations on legalizing marijuana sales and commercial production, reported Marijuana Moment. Cannabis legalization has been passed by Democratic legislators in 2021. Youngkin, a GOP candidate, will be taking office later in January.
Advocates of legal marijuana are worried that the governor-elect will get in the way of implementing the legalization law. However, Youngkin said in an interview with Virginia Business that he will not be acting against the decriminalization law. What he emphasized is his lack of confidence in the commercialization of cannabis.
Youngkin said, “I’m not against it, but there’s a lot of work to be done,” but mentions that there are “some nonstarters” in the current legalization laws passed by Democrats, particularly with regard to the labor union requirement for marijuana businesses.
GOP lawmakers also pushed back against union requirements, which states that regulators can revoke a marijuana company’s business license if it showed interference in union efforts. This provision also allows the revocation of licenses if companies failed to pay prevailing wages.
He also takes into account “concerns expressed by law enforcement in how the gap in the laws can actually be enforced.”
The governor-elect highlighted the need to ensure that the state will not be fostering an “anti-competitive industry.” He added that there is a need to guarantee that players who would be allowed to participate in the industry should have the right qualifications to do so.
It is important to note that a panel committee was assembled to investigate potential issues with licensing and regulatory agencies. In a meeting in December 2021, the panel members voted favorably to a recommendation to speed up the timeline for legal marijuana sales by one year. This will make the law effective by January 2023.
If the recommendation was denied, the current law will allow sales in 2024. New developments are anticipated as the committee is scheduled to meet this month under the new Republican leadership.
Virginia NORML executive director JM Pedrini noted that Youngkin is correct in saying that more work needs to be done to make the legalization law more workable and feasible.
Pedrini pointed fingers at Democratic legislators as they included a reenactment clause in the 2021 law. “Democrats missed a real opportunity to enact a regulatory framework for commercial sales in the 2021 General Assembly,” Pedrini said, “The reenactment clause was demanded by a handful of legislators with purely political motivations, but ultimately it’s Virginians who are losing points from this ill-timed punt.”
Pedrini added, “It was difficult enough reaching consensus amongst Democrats on legalization in the 2021 session, and with a now divided government, the hills will be all that steeper to climb.”
Meanwhile, Youngkin expressed support for creating opportunities for minorities, women, and military business owners. He did not specify any amendments to further strengthen the equity provisions in the 2021 legalization law.
While advocates have reservations about the commitment of the new GOP-controlled House and governor-elect, GOP lawmakers said that no move against the impending sales will be made.
House Speaker-designee Todd Gilbert and Delegate Glenn Davis said that the existing policies may not be acceptable in the long run. The two are referring to the rules that only those 21 years old and above can possess and cultivate marijuana on a personal level. However, they may not have commercial access to products. Alternatives to the current rules are yet to be presented.
According to Gilbert, work needs to be done because Democrats failed to do legalization “the right way” and that the current House will have to “fix all that” while working with the Democratic Senate.
“I imagine the roadmap that they laid out as to how that would occur if they did it in the future, is going to change dramatically,” he said, “But obviously, we’ve been left with that live grenade kind of rolling around and we need to fix it or else all we have is a black market.”
Marijuana Moment noted that the vote that passed the legalization last year did not see any favorable responses from Republicans, whether in the Senate or the Assembly. Both chambers were democrat-controlled.
A change by outgoing Governor Ralph Northam made personal possession and cultivation legal in July 2021 instead of 2024.
Youngkin remarked in April that he has not met a person who regularly uses marijuana who was also successful. He also said in May that legalization is another issue that would be left for him to fix in case he gets elected.
Virginia is the 17th state in the United States after the legalization law was passed last year, according to Marijuana Policy Project. It also gained recognition for being the first state in the South to legalize cannabis.
Currently, possession of adults 21 years old and above up to one ounce is legal in the state, said Virginia NORML. Adults can also cultivate up to four plants per household, given that they do so in their primary residence. Moreover, adults can also share up to one ounce in private without remuneration. Medical cannabis remains to be legal at licensed dispensaries.
Illegal marijuana activities include public consumption, possession, and consumption by minors, possession on school grounds and buses, consumption in a motor vehicle while being driven (whether as a passenger or as a driver), and sharing and offering in public.
Open containers in vehicles, selling or purchasing outside of the medical cannabis program, selling or purchasing seeds or products, and gifting schemes are also illegal.
By January 2024 or 2023 if the panel recommendation passes, selling and purchasing marijuana will be legal. Some changes will also apply, including a civil fine of up to $25 for first-offense public consumption and minors possessing cannabis. Consuming while in a moving vehicle will also be punishable by a fine and is considered a misdemeanor. Bringing cannabis into the state will be punished by one year of jail time.
Some of these penalties require review and re-approval by 2022.