The Senate finally approved a proposal to legalize marijuana in the Commonwealth of Virginia last Friday, January 22, 2021. The committee voted in favor of legalizing the drug, with an 8 to 7 vote taking place. Following this, the proposal is slated to advance to a full floor vote.
The bill was made by the administration of Governor Ralph Northam. The Senate Rehabilitation and Social Services Committee voted in favor of both legalizing the drug as well as creating a more regulated market, states the Richmond Times – Dispatch. However, all of the seven Republicans voted against the initiative.
Governor Northam’s legislation proposed regulating and taxing marijuana manufacturing and sales. In addition, Marijuana Moment states that this calls for the sales to legal-aged adults and for these users to gain access up to an ounce of cannabis in their possession at any given time. This bill also calls for the cultivation of up to four cannabis plants at home for personal use, two of which could be mature plants.
Despite the Senate panel’s approval, there had been significant changes to the cannabis legalization bill. According to ABC 8 News, one of the key changes is delaying retail sales to 2024. This is a year behind the initial proposed date to allow marijuana sales to adults aged 21 and older by the year 2023.
Apart from this, ABC 8 News reports that the Senate panel committee also called to change the regulator tasked in overseeing the production of cannabis in the market. Instead of the Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control Authority, an independent agency would help regulate the cannabis market in its place.
In a statement, Senator Jeremy S. McPike states that the decision stems from the idea that the Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control Authority is involved in different activities, states ABC 8 News.
Jenn Michelle Pedini, the Executive Director of Virginia NORML, also agreed with this sentiment, saying the creation of an independent agency will allow it to “address the numerous equity provisions that would need to be implemented,” reports WSLS.
Although the establishment of an independent committee will further delay the initial goal of selling cannabis to Virginians by 2023 by around six months, legislators believe that this will allow the Commonwealth to approach marijuana sales and regulation in a more appropriate manner.
Despite the recommendation of building a new agency to handle regulations, the Senate panel is also open to making legal sales of the drug available to Virginians as early as 2023 or sooner, provided that the suggested amendments are observed. In addition, they also require updates on the movement on a quarterly basis, reveals ABC 8 News.
Meanwhile, the legislators also approved an amendment that allows localities to opt-out of allowing cannabis businesses to operate within their jurisdictions. Prior to this, the bill originally called for an opt-in clause, notes Marijuana Moment.
While an amendment from Senator Ryan McDougle called for the removal of access to home cultivation, majority of the legislators did not agree with this, especially as this would reduce the accessibility of the drug to lower-income individuals and promote the safety and security of the people.