Prompted by a request from Goochland County, a bill filed in the General Assembly would leave it up to voters in a given locality to opt-in to the upcoming retail recreational marijuana market.
House Bill 43 would make it a requirement for municipalities in Virginia to hold local voter referendums before marijuana retail stores could operate within their jurisdictions. An up vote would open the door to the businesses, while a down vote would make the locality off-limits for such ventures.
That would be a reversal of the opt-out system currently in place as a result of 2021 legislation, which allows for, but doesn’t require, a referendum to take place on the question on whether to prohibit retail stores.
This latest bill was introduced by Del. R. Lee Ware, whose office said the legislation was inspired by efforts from Goochland County’s Board of Supervisors, and that county staff created the bill’s language. A portion of Goochland is within Ware’s House district.
“Our intent in requesting and drafting HB 43 was for it to apply to adult-use, recreational marijuana retail stores and the process that must occur to approve the operation of retail marijuana stores in localities through a referendum,” County Community Affairs Manager Paul Drumwright said in an email last week.
Board Chairman Neil Spoonhower said he favored the request out of a desire to bring the question of retail marijuana more in line with local governments’ powers in similar legislation and to let the county’s voters weigh in on what he characterized as a major decision.
“From my perspective, the concern was that the initial bill was written very differently from other bills, especially in how decisions are left to localities,” he said, noting he was speaking for himself and not the board. “The fact they did it as an opt-out rather than an opt-in struck us as odd. My point was we don’t know necessarily how our citizens feel about this.”
He added, “It was odd to us that they said we’re doing it as a default. It’s backwards from a lot of legislation we’ve seen,” citing the recent casino referendum in Richmond as an example.
Spoonhower said legalization is a major decision that calls for voters to have a say in how it trickles down to the local level.
“I think with something as big as legalizing another drug, we need to be very certain what people in localities think,” he said. “I don’t speak for everybody, so to say we’re going to make a significant change in how we view drugs, we have to give the public a voice.”
Ware was unavailable for comment.
As proposed, the results of a referendum in a county that has a town within its boundaries would also apply to the town but a referendum held in a town wouldn’t be binding on the county in which it is situated.
The bill would allow a new referendum to be held four years after a referendum that rejected marijuana retail stores.
The commercial components of the 2021 legislation which legalized recreational marijuana would have to be reenacted to allow the retail market to be created. Bills that would do that have been filed in the General Assembly for the currently ongoing session.
HB 43 had yet to be assigned to a House committee as of Monday afternoon, according to the General Assembly’s online legislative information system. Should the bill be approved in committee, it would then need to pass both General Assembly chambers before the governor would consider whether to sign it into law.
Goochland is rapidly becoming a haven for empty nesters in their 70’s. It’ll be interesting to see how Baby Boomers, part of the Woodstock generation, would vote on a recreational marijuana referendum. And does it matter if they don’t support it if a more urbanized Henrico does? They’d just lose the sales tax portion. Check out the parking lots of legalized sales stores in western Massachusetts, home of Alice’s Restaurant, “where you can get anything you want”. They are full of New Yorkers and Vermonters. The states aren’t building walls or erecting checkpoints and neither will the counties. This bill… Read more »
It is silly, but mostly harmless. Making someone drive 30 minutes more once a month ist going to decrease pot consumption.
Meh, seems reasonable enough to me. Controversial topic gets a state wide ruling. Localities get to decide how to implement it. I’m sure people will just drive a county over in some cases. SW virginia other than Roanoke would probably vote to ban it. Let the law reflect people’s will.
Not any different than Youngkin’s recent mask mandate ruling. Each locality now gets to decide how they want to implement it. Consults with VA Dept of Health are allowed.
Why is it any different that alcohol? Localities don’t get to vote on whether the state can open ABC stores in their location.
Agreed, sound logic.