A House of Delegates subcommittee on Monday snuffed out a bill that would have teed up an early start for recreational cannabis sales in Virginia this year.
In a 5-3 vote, the committee killed Senate Bill 391, sponsored by Sen. Adam Ebbin, which sought to create a transitional sales period that would have kicked off Sept. 15 as a precursor to the full launch of the state’s recreational cannabis market.
SB 391 was also intended to provide the final legislative step needed to allow the state’s recreational cannabis market to launch when retail sales become fully legal on Jan. 1, 2024.
While Ebbin’s bill had been approved by the Senate, its down-vote in the House this session creates a hazy outlook for the state’s eventual market. The previously passed 2021 legalization law required market regulations be reenacted this year to take effect. Personal possession and cultivation of cannabis remains legal, as passed last year.
Ebbin’s office didn’t respond to a request for comment Monday.
The committee voted to delay the bill’s consideration until 2023. The vote split on party lines. Republicans said the proposal was too complicated to be decided before the session ends March 12.
“I spent most of the weekend poring through this bill and trying to come to the determination whether now is the right time for this policy in Virginia, the question about whether or not this is the correct vehicle with which to undertake this policy,” Del. Jeffrey Campbell (R-Smyth) said during Monday’s subcommittee meeting. “I think this is a bigger issue than we can correct in two weeks’ time. I think the imperative is we continue to study this over the year and try to get this right.”
Democrats urged the bill’s passage to provide a legal means for recreational cannabis sales sooner rather than later. Del. Paul Krizek (D-Fairfax) argued that lawmakers had already spent months on the legislation and he felt there was still enough time to work on it further.
“We’ve been working on perfecting this bill and getting it to where we’re at now. We still do have two more weeks,” Krizek said. “I think it’s premature to give up when we’re so close to the goal line. Especially considering the black market and what that entails.”
SB 391 came to incorporate the crux of Ebbin’s Senate Bill 313, which sought to create an early-sales period, as it made its way through the Senate in February.
The idea was that the state’s medical cannabis operators would have been able to sell recreational products out of their dispensaries as a way to bridge legal sales until the full market rollout. A few Virginia industrial hemp processors would also have been able to participate in early sales as per the latest version of SB 391.
Lawmakers debated the early-sales concept in the summer and tweaked early-sales legislation during the session. Notably, hemp processors were initially to be part of the early-sales period, then they were cut out only to be written back into the final version of the bill that ultimately won’t get a vote on the House floor.
Several cannabis bills introduced in the House, including a GOP reenactment bill and a bill that would have required a referendum to allow cannabis retail stores to open in localities, did not make it beyond the introduction stage and were never considered.
While the state’s eventual recreational cannabis market stumbled Monday, the legalization of cannabis has inspired the launch of companies such as a bong-cleaning service and marijuana-plant sitter. Those companies are able to capitalize on the 2021 legalization package that allows personal possession of marijuana and cultivation of four marijuana plants per household.
The state’s medical cannabis program has been selling medical cannabis products for a little more than a year.