A Republican lawmaker in the Virginia House of Delegates has introduced a bill to finally stand up the state’s adult-use cannabis market, more than 18 months after the legislature legalized recreational marijuana. But many advocates are unhappy with social equity changes made by the bill’s author, adding more uncertainty to the mix.
The move underscores how volatile the cannabis landscape in Virginia is, given that the market was authorized under Democratic control in 2021, before Republicans retook the governor’s mansion and House of Delegates later that same year. Recreational cannabis has become a political football of sorts since then, with almost no clarity yet on how the market will eventually shape up.
The new bill also comes after the Virginia House GOP stalled the rec market launch throughout 2022, in favor of a longer and more cautious approach to the industry, with a rollout slated for sometime in 2024.
Though Virginia NORML Executive Director JM Pedini lauded the new bill to reporters upon its reveal, social equity advocates have criticized the GOP measure as ignoring past harms wrought by the war on drugs.
The bill, by Republican Del. Keith Hodges, “erases any commitment to addressing the harm of marijuana prohibition that continues to specifically target Black Virginians,” Marijuana Justice Virginia told Marijuana Moment.
“This proposal essentially lays out the red carpet allowing for an egregious (multistate operator) benefit plan sponsored by the Commonwealth of Virginia,” the nonprofit organization said.
Pedini, however, told reporters in late December that Hodges’ bill is “smart” and “stands the best chance of succeeding out of any of the adult-use related bills this year.”
Pedinia also noted to reporters that there hasn’t yet been much communicated from Gov. Glenn Youngkin as far as how the state’s chief executive wants to see the cannabis market structured.
Even if Hodges’ bill succeeds in the lower chamber, it could face headwinds in the Democratic-controlled state Senate, if activists can drum up opposition to changes made by Hodges.
The Virginia legislative session launches Jan. 11.