Virginia lawmakers explore an earlier start for retail marijuana sales

A group of lawmakers are exploring an expedited timeline to launch the state’s retail marijuana market, which is currently scheduled to open in January 2024. (BizSense file)

The start of marijuana retail sales in Virginia could come sooner than initially planned as lawmakers continue to discuss the ground rules for the new industry.

The commission that oversees implementation of state legislation that legalized marijuana recently created a subcommittee that will draw up recommendations on how to expedite the start of retail sales in Virginia, a milestone currently slated for January 2024.

That subcommittee of the Cannabis Oversight Commission is expected to meet in the first half of November to create the recommendations, said Henry Watkins, who is chief of staff for the commission’s chairman, Sen. Adam Ebbin.

Sen. Adam Ebbin

The Cannabis Oversight Commission created the subcommittee during a meeting earlier this month, and the question of a quicker start to retail sales comes amid other debates among lawmakers about the industry as it takes shape.

A sticking point among commission members earlier this month was how the state’s medical cannabis operators should be allowed to participate in the retail market.

The state’s four medical cannabis operators, which are currently allowed to have prescription-based dispensaries onsite at their manufacturing facilities in addition to five satellite medical dispensaries each, would be permitted to run full-on retail operations out of their dispensaries under current legislation once retail sales are enacted.

That arrangement was criticized by Sen. Jennifer McClellan during the recent meeting.

“I think there’s a tension in our equity goals if we’re giving medical licensees, who are basically incumbents, a competitive advantage,” McClellan said.

Ebbin suggested that the existing game plan for retail operations at medical operators’ dispensaries could help the market as a whole ramp up quickly, particularly if the market is opened sooner than currently planned.

Ebbin also floated the idea of recommending medical operators be allowed to sell marijuana seeds starting next July.

The Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission, a state watchdog agency, has previously suggested medical operators be limited to three retail dispensaries.

There’s also discussion among commission members about additional categories and subcategories of the business licenses needed to operate in the market and whether licensing caps should be determined by the Cannabis Control Authority rather than by legislation.

The Cannabis Control Authority was formally established earlier this year.

The subcommittee’s recommendations will be passed along to the commission, which would then forward its guidance to the General Assembly to take under consideration when it reenacts the legislation related to the creation of the legal retail market.

The commission expects to finalize what it’ll recommend to the General Assembly by December, Watkins said.

The Cannabis Control Authority Board of Directors has met twice since the authority was created and is operating on a $2.3 million budget for the current fiscal year. That includes funds for about 20 employees, Gov. Ralph Northam’s administration policy advisor, Megan Field, said at the commission’s meeting earlier this month.

The authority expects to start hiring soon, and the hunt for its first CEO is still underway, Northam administration spokeswoman Alena Yarmosky said in an email Monday.

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Kathy Batzel
Kathy Batzel
1 month ago

Sounds like to me the Politicans are doing what they do best again! Making this like everything else. Taking a small problem and making it huge!!!!! First why are you worried about Medical now that it’s legal? I might be missing something but from what I understand the insurance company’s will not pay for any of the costs for pot. See it’s NOT FDA REGULATED. You might have a perscription and that’s good but do you really need one if it’s legal? Is this yet again another take something simple and f..k it up action of Richmond This is why… Read more »

Johnnie Summers
Johnnie Summers
1 month ago
Reply to  Kathy Batzel

I think that the debate that they are having about the medical dispensaries is a valid debate. What they are saying is the medical dispensaries would have a major advantage over anyone else trying to enter the retail market because they already have their supply chain and licenses in place. So if the medical dispensaries are allowed to start selling it without prescriptions they would be able to basically corner the market before any other retailer has the time to get a store open due to not having a supply chain or the ability to get licensed yet which is… Read more »

John Thomas
John Thomas
1 month ago

They need to speed this process up. It needs to be all done and recreational marijuana should be up and running before the 2022 elections. — Republicans have made a ‘wedge’ issue out of marijuana legalization and almost all vote against it.

If Republicans take power before recreational marijuana is established, they will likely throw a monkey wrench in the process – no matter what they have ‘promised’ on the campaign trail. — Honesty hasn’t been a Republican characteristic for many years.

Linda woolfrey
Linda woolfrey
7 days ago

I believe having Marijuana legal yet no where to legally buy it makes no sense. Three more years before retail sales begin that is ridiculous. Where does the state of Virginia propose l buy Marijuana? The local dealer? Let ABC govern the sales until prospective retailers can get licensed and set up.