House GOP blocks recreational marijuana sales from beginning this year

By: - February 28, 2022 9:16 am

Freshly harvested marijuana flowers are processed at Green Leaf Medical in Richmond. (Scott Elmquist/Style Weekly)

A House of Delegates subcommittee Monday voted down legislation that would have allowed recreational marijuana sales to begin this September.

The bill, which had passed the Democratic-controlled Senate last week, died on a party line vote, with Republicans opposing.

“I think this is a bigger issue than we can correct in two weeks’ time,” said Del. Jeff Campbell, R-Smyth.

Democrats on the panel urged their GOP colleagues to reconsider. “The longer we wait to have a regulated market, the harder it will be to compete with that illicit market,” said Del. Dawn Adams, D-Richmond.

The General Assembly voted last year to allow people to possess and grow marijuana, but lawmakers have so far been unable to agree on legalized recreational sales. Democrats had set an initial goal of opening sales in 2024, but decided over the summer that was too long to wait, citing concerns that people were openly flouting the state’s ban on sales.

Marijuana is still illegal to sell in Va., but that’s not stopping retailers (including a senator)

Currently the only legal way to obtain marijuana in Virginia is to grow it, get it as a gift or buy it from a medical dispensary with a prescription.

The politics became more complex after Democrats lost their majority in the House of Delegates in the November elections, leaving Republicans who opposed legalization to broker a final deal.

Coming into the legislative session, Republicans said they would address the issue, framing it as a mess Democrats had left them to clean up.  But as the session progressed, it became clear the House GOP caucus was unable to reach an internal consensus on the issue.

The chamber never docketed GOP bills that would have advanced legalization alongside Republican priorities like dedicating new tax revenue to school construction.

With Monday’s vote, Republicans promised to revisit the issue next year, making sometime in mid to late 2023 the earliest retail sales could begin.

“Virginia Democrats made a great big mess when they legalized marijuana without putting any regulatory or retail structure in place,” said House Speaker Todd Gilbert, R-Shenandoah, in a tweet. “We are left having to clean up their mess and we will not make it worse by rushing to fix it.”

House Republicans did advance legislation proposed by Sen. Emmett Hanger, R-Augusta, which would regulate sales of delta-8 THC products, which give users a similar high as traditional marijuana but whose producers argue is technically legal under state and federal law.

The products have sprung up in specialty shops, gas stations and health markets.

Hanger’s bill would unambiguously bar sales until the recreational marijuana market opens.

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly attributed remarks by Del. Jeff Campbell to one of his GOP colleagues.

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Ned Oliver
Ned Oliver

Ned, a Lexington native, has been a fulltime journalist since 2008, beginning at The News-Gazette in Lexington, and including stints at the Berkshire Eagle, in Berkshire County, Mass., and the Times-Dispatch and Style Weekly in Richmond. He is a graduate of Bard College at Simon’s Rock, in Great Barrington, Mass. He was named Virginia's outstanding journalist for 2020 by the Virginia Press Association.