New legislation seeks to launch retail recreational marijuana market later this year

cannabis green leaf cannabist

State legislators have filed new legislation that would pave the way to legal sales of recreational pot. (BizSense file photos)

A fresh legislative push is underway to fully legalize marijuana in Virginia.

Bills filed in the General Assembly this week would create the regulatory foundation needed to establish a legal market for the sale of recreational pot within the state.

Senate Bill 423, if passed into law, would allow companies cleared to participate in the state’s medical marijuana program to expand their current offerings with sales of recreational cannabis starting July 1, 2024.

The bill also would allow the Virginia Cannabis Control Authority, the state agency that would oversee and regulate the recreational market, to begin on July 1, 2025, to issue licenses needed to operate in the market to businesses that aren’t state-sanctioned sellers of medical cannabis. Up to five industrial hemp manufacturers would be able to receive licenses to operate in the recreational cannabis market by Jan. 1, 2025 and “begin operations as soon as the authority is able to regulate such operations,” according to the legislation.

SB 423 is sponsored by Sen. Adam Ebbin, who was unavailable for an interview Thursday. A bill called House Bill 698 with identical language was introduced in by Del. Paul Krizek. Krizek’s office didn’t respond to a request for comment.

The legislation would require licenses to operate retail stores, growing operations, testing facilities, wholesaling and manufacturing operations.

Retail stores would be no larger than 1,500 square feet, though there would be an exception for certain larger stores opened by medical cannabis companies before July 1, 2024.

The canopy – the area where pot is grown and maintained – of cultivation facilities would be limited to 150,000 square feet. Medical marijuana operators that hold permits from before July 1, 2024, would be limited to 200,000 square feet of canopy.

cannabist main

Medical marijuana dispensary Cannabist in Carytown.

According to the proposed legislation, the Virginia Cannabis Control Authority’s board would be required to award a minimum of five licenses each for companies in the cultivation, manufacturing and wholesale segments in each of Virginia’s 40 senate districts. Three licenses per category per district would need to be given to what the bill refers to as micro businesses.

The bill would require at least eight licenses for retail stores be awarded in each senate district, with three of them in each district awarded to micro businesses.

Those license minimums wouldn’t factor in any facilities operated by medical marijuana providers.

Micro businesses are defined in the legislation as those whose applicants have at least 66 percent ownership by people who have either lived for three of the past five years in a historically economically disadvantaged community or attended public school in such an area for at least five years, among other qualifications, such as being a U.S. military veteran.

Micro business growers would be limited to 10,000-square-foot canopies. Those businesses that hold manufacturing licenses would be limited to production of a maximum of 1,000 pounds of cannabis or cannabis products annually. Micro businesses with wholesale permits would be limited to $500,000 of product per year.

The authority also would oversee packaging and potency regulations and enforce a prohibition on outdoor growing.

Medical marijuana providers, micro businesses and no more than five industrial hemp manufacturers would be able to hold licenses in more than one category.

Local governments would be allowed to hold referendums on whether to prohibit marijuana businesses from operating in their jurisdictions. Localities would be able to establish a 6 percent tax on recreational marijuana sales. The state would levy its own 6 percent sales tax on products sold in cannabis stores, according to the bills.

Banks that would deal with licensed cannabis businesses wouldn’t have to worry about running afoul of state law for providing financial services to those companies under the proposed legislation.

There currently isn’t a legal way to buy recreational marijuana in Virginia, though it is legal to consume, grow and possess small amounts of pot for personal use. The 2021 legislation that legalized personal cannabis use has elements that need to be reenacted to allow the launch of a retail market.

This year’s bills, filed as the 2024 session of the General Assembly gets underway, are the latest effort to stand up a legal recreational cannabis market in Virginia after failed attempts in 2023 and 2022.

Ebbin’s latest bill is broadly similar to his 2023 legislation, though there have been tweaks.

The micro business concept is the latest iteration of efforts by lawmakers to create legislation that would tee up an industry that’s accessible to people with limited resources. The 2023 bill Ebbin sponsored featured a similar proposal with different qualifications for applicants to the program.

Another change from year to year is the introduction of minimums of cannabis-related business licenses set geographically by Senate district.

Whether the third time will be the charm remains to be seen. Democrats, who in general have been more supportive of recreational marijuana, maintained control of the Senate and were able to take control of the House in November’s elections.

The legislation will have to pass in both chambers to reach the desk of Gov. Glenn Youngkin, whose signature would be needed for the legislation to become law. However, Youngkin hasn’t been particularly interested in cannabis legislation and reiterated that position this week with reporters after his State of the Commonwealth address.

“There’s so many things that we can work on that I think we can get to the finish line, and as I’ve said I just don’t have a lot of interest in pressing forward with marijuana legislation,” Youngkin said.

cannabis green leaf cannabist

State legislators have filed new legislation that would pave the way to legal sales of recreational pot. (BizSense file photos)

A fresh legislative push is underway to fully legalize marijuana in Virginia.

Bills filed in the General Assembly this week would create the regulatory foundation needed to establish a legal market for the sale of recreational pot within the state.

Senate Bill 423, if passed into law, would allow companies cleared to participate in the state’s medical marijuana program to expand their current offerings with sales of recreational cannabis starting July 1, 2024.

The bill also would allow the Virginia Cannabis Control Authority, the state agency that would oversee and regulate the recreational market, to begin on July 1, 2025, to issue licenses needed to operate in the market to businesses that aren’t state-sanctioned sellers of medical cannabis. Up to five industrial hemp manufacturers would be able to receive licenses to operate in the recreational cannabis market by Jan. 1, 2025 and “begin operations as soon as the authority is able to regulate such operations,” according to the legislation.

SB 423 is sponsored by Sen. Adam Ebbin, who was unavailable for an interview Thursday. A bill called House Bill 698 with identical language was introduced in by Del. Paul Krizek. Krizek’s office didn’t respond to a request for comment.

The legislation would require licenses to operate retail stores, growing operations, testing facilities, wholesaling and manufacturing operations.

Retail stores would be no larger than 1,500 square feet, though there would be an exception for certain larger stores opened by medical cannabis companies before July 1, 2024.

The canopy – the area where pot is grown and maintained – of cultivation facilities would be limited to 150,000 square feet. Medical marijuana operators that hold permits from before July 1, 2024, would be limited to 200,000 square feet of canopy.

cannabist main

Medical marijuana dispensary Cannabist in Carytown.

According to the proposed legislation, the Virginia Cannabis Control Authority’s board would be required to award a minimum of five licenses each for companies in the cultivation, manufacturing and wholesale segments in each of Virginia’s 40 senate districts. Three licenses per category per district would need to be given to what the bill refers to as micro businesses.

The bill would require at least eight licenses for retail stores be awarded in each senate district, with three of them in each district awarded to micro businesses.

Those license minimums wouldn’t factor in any facilities operated by medical marijuana providers.

Micro businesses are defined in the legislation as those whose applicants have at least 66 percent ownership by people who have either lived for three of the past five years in a historically economically disadvantaged community or attended public school in such an area for at least five years, among other qualifications, such as being a U.S. military veteran.

Micro business growers would be limited to 10,000-square-foot canopies. Those businesses that hold manufacturing licenses would be limited to production of a maximum of 1,000 pounds of cannabis or cannabis products annually. Micro businesses with wholesale permits would be limited to $500,000 of product per year.

The authority also would oversee packaging and potency regulations and enforce a prohibition on outdoor growing.

Medical marijuana providers, micro businesses and no more than five industrial hemp manufacturers would be able to hold licenses in more than one category.

Local governments would be allowed to hold referendums on whether to prohibit marijuana businesses from operating in their jurisdictions. Localities would be able to establish a 6 percent tax on recreational marijuana sales. The state would levy its own 6 percent sales tax on products sold in cannabis stores, according to the bills.

Banks that would deal with licensed cannabis businesses wouldn’t have to worry about running afoul of state law for providing financial services to those companies under the proposed legislation.

There currently isn’t a legal way to buy recreational marijuana in Virginia, though it is legal to consume, grow and possess small amounts of pot for personal use. The 2021 legislation that legalized personal cannabis use has elements that need to be reenacted to allow the launch of a retail market.

This year’s bills, filed as the 2024 session of the General Assembly gets underway, are the latest effort to stand up a legal recreational cannabis market in Virginia after failed attempts in 2023 and 2022.

Ebbin’s latest bill is broadly similar to his 2023 legislation, though there have been tweaks.

The micro business concept is the latest iteration of efforts by lawmakers to create legislation that would tee up an industry that’s accessible to people with limited resources. The 2023 bill Ebbin sponsored featured a similar proposal with different qualifications for applicants to the program.

Another change from year to year is the introduction of minimums of cannabis-related business licenses set geographically by Senate district.

Whether the third time will be the charm remains to be seen. Democrats, who in general have been more supportive of recreational marijuana, maintained control of the Senate and were able to take control of the House in November’s elections.

The legislation will have to pass in both chambers to reach the desk of Gov. Glenn Youngkin, whose signature would be needed for the legislation to become law. However, Youngkin hasn’t been particularly interested in cannabis legislation and reiterated that position this week with reporters after his State of the Commonwealth address.

“There’s so many things that we can work on that I think we can get to the finish line, and as I’ve said I just don’t have a lot of interest in pressing forward with marijuana legislation,” Youngkin said.

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Brian Kelly
Brian Kelly
6 months ago

It’s time for us, the majority of The People to take back control of our national cannabis policy. By voting OUT of office any and all politicians who very publicly and vocally admit to having an anti-cannabis, prohibitionist agenda! Time to vote’em all OUT of office. Period. Plain and simple. Politicians who continue to demonize Cannabis, Corrupt Law Enforcement Officials who prefer to ruin peoples lives over Cannabis possession rather than solve real crimes who fund their departments toys and salaries with monies acquired through cannabis home raids, seizures and forfeitures, and so-called “Addiction Specialists” who make their income off… Read more »

George Macguffin
George Macguffin
6 months ago
Reply to  Brian Kelly

This romanticized and fictionalized interpretation and understanding of the governing (control) apparatus is exactly what is wrong with an uninformed and naive citizenry. We can blame public education and media consumption I suppose. Yet I am still perplexed how one arrives at the conclusion that the objective of government in this particular ‘republic’ is to lie in accordance with the “will of The People”. ‘The People’ (what’s with the caps BTW?) have spoken! This is both comedy gold, and really rather disheartening. But don’t you worry, once big-pharma and its new spin-offs are prepared to supply cannabis products, they will.… Read more »

Last edited 6 months ago by George Macguffin
Guff MacGeorgian
Guff MacGeorgian
6 months ago

Classic George! Now he doesn’t think the government should represent the will of the people!

BTW (that stands for by the way) George, it was probably capitalized as a call back to the Constitution. I highly recommend it. It’s a really great read.

Brian Kelly
Brian Kelly
6 months ago

Simple question for you George: Why do you feel justified in endlessly wasting billions upon billions of our yearly federal tax dollars continuing to arrest, criminalize, incarcerate, and hand out life long permanent criminal records to otherwise hard-working, tax-paying, adult citizens for choosing to consume marijuana although it is far safer than perfectly legal, widely accepted alcohol?

Brian Kelly
Brian Kelly
6 months ago
Reply to  Brian Kelly

The “War on Cannabis” has been a complete and utter failure. It is the largest component of the broader yet equally unsuccessful “War on Drugs” that has cost our country over a trillion dollars. Instead of The United States wasting Billions upon Billions more of our yearly tax dollars fighting a never ending “War on Cannabis”, lets generate Billions of dollars, and improve the deficit instead. Especially now, due to Covid-19. It’s a no brainer. The Prohibition of Cannabis has also ruined the lives of many of our loved ones. In numbers greater than any other nation, our loved ones… Read more »

Brian Kelly
Brian Kelly
6 months ago
Reply to  Brian Kelly

Every major poll in the nation shows that The Vast Majority of Americans favor The Legalization of Cannabis Nationwide! “Americans Favor Legalizing Cannabis Support surged 10 percentage points in past year”” -Gallup Poll “A solid majority of voters nationwide favor legalizing and regulating cannabis similar to the way alcohol and tobacco cigarettes are currently regulated. Most also dont believe it should be a crime for people to smoke cannabis in the privacy of their own homes” -Rasmussen Poll “Americans favor making cannabis legal for adults, according to the findings of a CNN/ORC International survey released late Monday. The percentage is… Read more »

Brian Kelly
Brian Kelly
6 months ago
Reply to  Brian Kelly

“Cannabis is 114 times safer than drinking alcohol” “Cannabis may be even safer than previously thought, researchers say” “Cannabis may be even safer than previously thought, researchers say New study: We should stop fighting Cannabis legalization and focus on alcohol and tobacco instead By Christopher Ingraham February 23 Compared with other recreational drugs — including alcohol — Cannabis may be even safer than previously thought. And researchers may be systematically underestimating risks associated with alcohol use. Those are the top-line findings of recent research published in the journal Scientific Reports, a subsidiary of Nature. Researchers sought to quantify the risk… Read more »

Brian Kelly
Brian Kelly
6 months ago
Reply to  Brian Kelly

There is absolutely no doubt now that the majority of Americans want to completely legalize cannabis nationwide. Our numbers grow on a daily basis. The prohibitionist view on cannabis is the viewpoint of a minority and rapidly shrinking percentage of Americans. It is based upon decades of lies and propaganda. Each and every tired old lie they have propagated has been thoroughly proven false by both science and society. Their tired old rhetoric no longer holds any validity. The vast majority of Americans have seen through the sham of cannabis prohibition in this day and age. The number of prohibitionists… Read more »

kay christensen
kay christensen
6 months ago

Thank goodness for Glenn Youngkin- this legislation= VETO.

Justin W Ranson
Justin W Ranson
5 months ago

why?

Phil Perkins
Phil Perkins
6 months ago

Every fourth car on the road in the city of Richmond reeks of weed being smoked. That’s DUI, folks. I’m sure this proposed legislation will help us ensure every SECOND car will have someone DUI of marijuana. Great idea!!

Brian Kelly
Brian Kelly
6 months ago
Reply to  Phil Perkins

Legalizing Cannabis will not create a massive influx of marijuana impaired drivers on our roads. It will not create an influx of professionals (doctors, pilots, bus drivers, etc..) under the influence on the job either. This is a prohibitionist propaganda scare tactic. Truth: Responsible drivers don’t drive while impaired on any substance period! Irresponsible drivers are already on our roads, and they will drive while impaired regardless of their drug of choice’s legality. Therefore, legalizing cannabis will have little impact on the amount of marijuana impaired drivers on our roads. The same thing applies to people being under the influence… Read more »

Bruce Milam
Bruce Milam
6 months ago

The cat is out of the bag and the horse is out of the barn. There is so much unregulated and untaxed marijuana on the streets today that it will be a ridiculous and costly enterprise to try to put them back. Recreational marijuana production and sale is inevitable. The issue is that “homemades” are dangerous, ala homemade liquor. The products need to have controls and regulations so consumers can be aware of their strength and effects, ala alcohol proof. Massachusetts and Colorado can provide that guidance. It’s not a moral issue; it’s one of health and safety.

George Macguffin
George Macguffin
6 months ago
Reply to  Bruce Milam

You can put cats back in bags and horses back in barns and even genies back in lamps, but, I implore you, try putting toothpaste back in the tube.

This is exactly what you’re inviting with your desire for more bureaucracy and gubmint oversight in a realm that has been self-regulated for ages.

Everyone knows a friend whose special brownies are not for the faint of heart.

Brian Kelly
Brian Kelly
6 months ago

Fear of Cannabis Legalization Nationwide is unfounded. Not based on any science or fact whatsoever. So please prohibitionists, we beg you to give your scare tactics, “Conspiracy Theories” and “Doomsday Scenarios” over the inevitable Legalization of Cannabis Nationwide a rest. Nobody is buying them anymore these days. Okay? Furthermore, if all prohibitionists get when they look into that nice, big and shiny crystal ball of theirs, while wondering about the future of cannabis legalization, is horror, doom, and despair, well then I suggest they return that thing as quickly as possible and reclaim the money they shelled out for it,… Read more »

karl hott
karl hott
6 months ago

The black market is happy with the status quo. Virginia is already swimming in ganja since it is legal to grow.

Boz Boschen
Boz Boschen
6 months ago

We are certainly losing revenue to neighboring states, which on the surface would seem to be a very Republican concern. A quick perusing of online forums shows that our medical market offers overpriced and substandard products with the way the state has regulated it (monopoly districts). The new authority should have a better understanding and ability than the Board of Pharmacy, which didn’t see it as a priority. But enough states have legalized a recreational market now that it’s not some boogieman scary unknown future. We can legislate for the market we want based on the data. It will definitely… Read more »