RICHMOND, Va. — A bill to legalize recreational marijuana sales in 2022 has been continued to next year.
On a 5-3 party-line vote, the subcommittee defeated the measure from Sen. Adam Ebbin (D - Fairfax) that had cleared the Democrat-controlled Senate earlier this month.
Republicans said they wanted more time to review how sales would work.
“I think this is a bigger issue than we can correct in two weeks’ time,” Del. Jeff Campbell (R - Smyth County) said in a reference to the amount of time remaining in this year's legislative session.
In 2021, the General Assembly - then fully controlled by Democrats - legalized adult possession of up to an ounce of marijuana and laid the ground work for retail sales to begin in 2024.
But a reenactment clause in the legislation required the General Assembly to act again on establishing the complex regulatory structure for retail sales. Ebbin's bill as it cleared the Senate would have allowed for what he called “transitional sales,” letting existing medical marijuana providers and a limited number of industrial hemp processors to begin selling recreational marijuana in mid-September, more than a year before the full retail market would have opened in 2024.
Both Republicans and Democrats at various points expressed support for moving up the date for retail sales to try to prevent growth in the illicit market. But a divide in the House GOP caucus over the issue became clear.
After their members filed at least eight bills that would have amended the 2021 legislation, the GOP House caucus opted not to take any action on those House measures before a legislative deadline.
Monday's action to defeat the Senate bill carried over the legislation to 2023.
The vote happened before the bill got a full hearing. Several Democrats spoke against the motion to continue the legislation.
“If we don’t have a bill that gives us a well-regulated, adult-use market amidst the backdrop of legalization in Virginia, we are basically providing a year for the growth and strengthening of the illicit market,” said Del. Dawn Adams (D - Richmond).