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Virginia GOP lawmaker files 2023 marijuana sales bill, prompting mixed defensive response

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A Virginia Republican lawmaker has introduced a bill to create a regulated market for marijuana in the Commonwealth, but it has drawn mixed reactions from advocates, which some see as a giveaway to large, multistate operators at the expense of property rights for people affected by the war on drugs.

Del. Keith Hodges (R) legislation, which would build on existing Virginia law allowing legal adult possession and personal cultivation of cannabis by creating a commercial market.

Advocates have been pressing the legislature to take the step to allow the sales to begin. Lawmakers have included regulatory language as part of the legalization bill They passed in 2021 under full democratic control from the state government. However, those components were subject to re-legislation by the future legislature, and lawmakers did not do so in a 2022 session that saw Republicans return to control of the House of Delegates and the governor’s office.

What this latest proposal, HB 1464, will do is modify previously passed regulatory provisions, giving lawmakers an alternative market model. Some have defended the measure, arguing that the revised language provides a necessary and practical path forward to finally give consumers access to regulated products under a legislative and administrative body partly controlled by the Republican Party. Others hold that changes, particularly in terms of social justice provisions, are not applicable.

The bill proposes removing language calling on regulators to develop criteria on prioritizing social justice applicants. Instead, regulators will need to think of ways to prioritize any applicant who intends to work in a Economically disadvantaged area, rather than those in it From Like this area.

It would also delete language calling for a cannabis business and equity task force to develop requirements for potential multiple license holders to submit “diversity, equity and inclusion plans,” for example. And it would delete an entire section outlining social equity license application criteria such as ownership by people with prior cannabis convictions.

“It’s a major shift to replace policies that empower people in communities affected by the drug war with new financial benefits for companies that position their businesses in underprivileged areas—essentially bringing in outside companies to target the poor for profit,” Shalene Title, founder of the Parabola Center, told Marijuana Moment. “These predatory tactics are neither new nor fair.”

Similarly, the group Marijuana Justice Virginia said the proposed legislation “erases any obligation to address the harm caused by marijuana prohibition that continues to specifically target black people.”

“This proposal essentially draws out the red carpet authorizing MSO’s blunt benefits scheme sponsored by the Commonwealth of Virginia,” the organization said.

An employee in Hodge’s office told the Marijuana Moment that the sponsor was not immediately available to comment on the advocates’ concerns.

Other supporters of the legislation say the deletion of social justice seeker language reflects an interest in simplifying the law and making the bill more palatable to the conservative legislature.

Hodges law Project It also prioritizes licensing of existing pharmaceutical processors, industrial hemp processors, and medical cannabis dispensaries. One way to do this is to have localities prevent them from obtaining any licenses even if voters approve a local opt-out referendum to ban newly licensed marijuana businesses.

Small cannabis companies would be allowed to enter into cooperatives with other small business licensees to “lease space and grow, manufacture and retail marijuana and retail marijuana products on the premises of another licensee” under the proposal.

Marijuana sales will be subject to a 10 percent excise tax, but the legislation will strike language on how that money is distributed. For example, it no longer mandates that 30 percent of tax revenue be allocated to the Cannabis Equity Reinvestment Fund.

The delegate’s action would also add a section stating that banks and credit unions that do business with state-licensed marijuana companies cannot be penalized under state law simply because they serve the industry.

In terms of timelines, the bill states that regulators along with the Virginia Cannabis Control Commission will need to issue rules to implement the law by September 1, 2023. However, they were unable to issue new licenses until July 1, 2024.

And while the legislation faces early criticism on some provisions, advocates expect to see revisions after the hearing officially begins next month. By focusing less on social justice and mandatory revenue appropriation, it could also serve as an effective conversation starter in the new session that will continue to see the GOP take control of the House and the governor’s office. Democrats maintain a narrow majority in the Senate.

“This is a smart bill that was carefully crafted by Delegate Hodges to have the best chance of success in a Republican-controlled House of Delegates,” J.M. Bedini, director of development for NORML, told Marijuana Moment on Friday.

The law was ratified under Democratic control and signed into law by former Governor Ralph Northam (D). His successor, Governor Glenn Youngkin (right), He said that he would not interfere with the implementationBut he also made it clear that he has strong opinions about what kind of regulatory framework would be acceptable to him, which excludes “some non-entities” in what the Democrats have advanced.

It remains to be seen what level of influence the administration will seek to exert over legislative discussions on regulating marijuana sales, but advocates appear willing to make certain concessions, and patience is running out on getting the market up and running.

“What is notably absent from the cannabis conversation in Virginia is clear guidance from Governor Youngkin,” said Bedini, who also serves as executive director of Virginia NORML. “Legalization is overwhelmingly popular with Republican and Democratic voters alike, and we hope the governor will take that into consideration.”

Last year, the Joint Legislative Committee on Cannabis Control voted in favor of a recommendation to allow Adult cannabis sales launch in January 2023but lawmakers failed to pass legislation to accomplish this.

Meanwhile, the governor recently released a budget proposal that includes $2.1 million to fund the Cannabis Registration and Inspection Program. Lawmakers are also looking forward to regulations for cannabinoids such as Delta-8 THC.

US Virgin Islands lawmakers are sending marijuana legalization and repeal laws to the governor

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