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Marijuana market bill heads to final House vote

Del. Krizek speaks
Shaban Athuman
VPM News
Del. Paul Krizek, D-Fairfax, presents HB 698, which would set up a retail market for marijuana, on Friday, February 9, 2024 in Richmond, Virginia. The legislation gives a head start to current pharmaceutical providers to start selling recreationally in July 2024, with the rest joining the market on January 1, 2025.

Senate version hasn’t been heard by the full body.

Delegates advanced a bill that would create a retail marijuana market in a floor vote Friday — signaling that most debate around the issue has concluded. The bill now heads to a final floor vote, which could come next week.

“We only get one shot at rolling out a retail market in an orderly fashion and we have to get it right,” said bill sponsor Del. Paul Krizek (D-Fairfax) while explaining his bill to the House.

HB698 would allow Virginia’s medical marijuana producers to begin selling adult-use weed on July 1 and require them to incubate microbusinesses owned by applicants from disadvantaged backgrounds. Krizek said the criteria for the microbusinesses, which would be able to begin retail sales in January, was race neutral.

Shaban Athuman
VPM News
A marijuana plant is seen in a grow room on Thursday, February 1, 2024 in Richmond, Virginia.

Marijuana legislation in the General Assembly, including a Senate bill, addresses market structure, equity considerations, testing and safety regulations, and enforcement mechanisms.

Debates in both chambers have centered on finding a balance between competitive markets and equity-conscious licensing. The formal marketplace could raise about $114 million in tax revenue for the commonwealth by 2030, according to the Department of Planning and Budget.

But as the House took up its version of the legislation Tuesday, Republican delegates didn’t raise objections to a legal retail market, instead voicing concerns about localities’ ability to opt-out of retail sales.

“I've got 17 incorporated towns — some of them are as small as 200 people. I don't need to have two towns on the Eastern Shore become distributors of marijuana to the rest of the county that doesn't want it,” said Del. Rob Bloxom (R-Accomack).

The logistics of conducting an opt-out referendum also are unclear, since retail sales from pharmaceutical providers would begin in July — and standing up a special election takes time.

The bills have been amended heavily as they’ve moved through the legislative process.

At a meeting earlier this month, Greg Habeeb, a lobbyist representing the Virginia Cannabis Association, said the bills were becoming more similar as they move through the General Assembly. But if both chambers pass distinct frameworks, a conference committee made up of delegates and senators would have to reconcile differences to reach a compromise.

A top Senate Democrat hinted that she would condition some of Youngkin’s economic development agenda on his agreeing to set up a retail market.

While some Republican lawmakers have been cautiously moving marijuana legislation forward without expressing support for the bill, Youngkin has indicated he won’t sign a law creating the framework. He has stopped short of totally ruling it out, but said he “wasn’t interested” in retail sales.

Jahd Khalil covers local government, the economy and labor issues for VPM News. Previously, he covered state government for RadioIQ and was a freelance journalist based in Egypt.