General Assembly committees review marijuana bills

RICHMOND, Va. (WDBJ) – Virginia lawmakers voted to legalize marijuana last year, but they are still working to establish a market for retail.

This is a complicated question that is far from being resolved.

On Wednesday, four bills came before a Senate subcommittee. The most radical would speed up legal sales by allowing companies that process medical marijuana to sell to all eligible adults.

Under current law, legal sales won’t begin until 2024, but proponents of the proposed legislation say giving pharmaceutical processors a head start will help establish a safer, more regulated market in Virginia.

Sen. Siobhan Dunnavant (R-Henrico Co.) introduced Senate Bill 621, which would begin legal sales on July 1.

“Until we have legal means of regulation and sale, we have kids who have greater access to marijuana than they would if it were a regulated industry in Virginia,” Dunnavant told subcommittee members.

Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria) sponsored Senate Bill 313, which would authorize sales beginning Jan. 1, 2023.

“Virginians use it. We recognized that when we legalized last year,” Ebbin said at the meeting. “And it’s possible to use it responsibly.”

But there are persistent objections to legalization in any form.

“You are working today to commercialize a for-profit addiction industry that will kill some of Virginia’s children,” said Sally Schindel, who told lawmakers her son’s suicide was tied to marijuana addiction.

And lawmakers have heard concerns that big marijuana companies will gain an unfair advantage over hemp processors and social equity licensees in communities hardest hit by marijuana lawsuits.

“I thought we had a good piece of legislation,” said Marty Jewell of the Cannabis Equity Coalition, “but what we see here… number one, it’s presented in great gibberish art.”

Jewell’s comments speak to the complexity of the marijuana bills, which are currently moving through the House and Senate.

And it could be late in the General Assembly session before we know what direction lawmakers will take to establish a legal marijuana market here in Virginia.

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