US (VA): With cannabis now legal, lawmakers debate how to set up the industry

Virginia lawmakers plan to take up a host of cannabis-related legislation this year in a narrowly divided General Assembly, following the body’s historic vote to legalize the drug for adult-use last year — when both the House of Delegates and the Senate were under Democratic control.
Last summer, then-Gov. Ralph Northam (D) signed into law a measure making it legal for people 21 or older to possess up to an ounce of cannabis and cultivate up to four cannabis plants in their household. But the complex legislation left it illegal to buy or sell cannabis, as retail sales were not slated to begin until 2024, giving the state time to build a regulated commercial market. Proposed legislation would allow some businesses to begin legally selling cannabis as soon as July 1.

The law includes a provision that requires the General Assembly to reenact certain aspects of the legislation during this year’s session, opening the door to significant changes to the law. Lawmakers in both the House, which Republicans now control after winning the majority in last fall’s elections, and the Senate, which is still under the control of Democrats, will consider cannabis-related bills that address such issues as a timeline and who will get licensing preference.

Though Republicans overwhelmingly opposed legalization last year, they have indicated that they plan to follow through with reenactment. However, the parameters of what the industry will look like and when it will open for business remain uncertain. Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) has also indicated that he doesn’t intend to overturn legalization, but he has acknowledged that the law still needs work to set up the commercial market.

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