Virginia bill that would have let hemp growers sell marijuana is dead

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A bill that would have let a limited number of Virginia hemp processors sell marijuana starting in 2023 has died in the state legislature.

The proposed law would have required select processors to pay a $1 million one-time fee, giving hemp and medical cannabis producers the chance to begin selling recreational marijuana in January 2023, one year earlier than stipulated in the state’s cannabis legalization bill of 2021. The state would also have collected a 21% excise tax from the companies, under the proposed measure.

Republicans on a subcommittee in the Virginia House of Representatives blocked the bill Monday on a 5-3 party-line vote.

Out of time?

Opponents of the bill argued that the 2021 cannabis law failed to establish proper regulations and that doing so now is not possible given that the current legislative session closes this month.

Supporters of the bill countered that failure to pass the measure leaves the market vulnerable to growth in illegal trade.

“House Republicans missed an opportunity to crack down on the illicit market and provide a regulated, equitable adult-use market,” Democrat Sen. Adam Ebbin, the bill’s sponsor, told television station WSLS.

Why support waned

Virginia’s legislature, then fully controlled by Democrats, legalized adult possession of up to an ounce of marijuana in 2021, laying the groundwork for retail sales to begin in 2024.

Representatives of both political parties had earlier expressed support for moving up the opening date for retail marijuana sales try to slow growth of the black market. But division over the issue arose after Republicans took control of the lower house in last year’s state elections.

Under current law, Virginians can share marijuana, cultivate a limited amount at home and qualify for medical cannabis registration cards which let them buy it from a medical provider.

A law that went into effect last week in New York opened the way for that state’s hemp farmers to grow marijuana for two years under a conditional licensing program. Officials said the program will ensure sufficient supplies for the state’s recreational market. New York legalized recreational marijuana last year.

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