NORFOLK, Va. - The Virginia Senate voted 23-16 to pass a bill allowing recreational sales of marijuana to begin Sept. 15.
The bill moves up sales dramatically. Originally, they were scheduled to begin in Virginia on Jan. 1, 2024.
Under the bill, sales can begin at existing medical dispensaries with a full market taking shape in 2024. Industrial hemp processors can also apply for licenses during the transition period.
"It ensures that consumers can purchase safe, regulated products until the full market is open," said Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria), the bill's sponsor.
Three Republican senators voted for the bill, but others complained about the massive bill being dropped on them just before voting.
"It's a bunch of crap. It's still a mess. It's still a mess, and we are getting hit with a 400-page substitute at 1:30 today," Sen. Mark Peake (R-Lynchburg) said.
It now heads to the Republican-controlled House of Delegates, where its future is uncertain.
Last year, lawmakers voted along party lines to legalize simple possession of marijuana, but left it up to future legislative action to work out how retail sales would work.
Newly-empowered Republicans have called last year's bill "a mess," but the House is not taking action on their own marijuana proposals before Crossover Day, the legislative deadline for new legislation originating from each chamber.
Gov. Glenn Youngkin told News 3 earlier this month he did not want last year's bill to be repealed, but wanted certain provisions taken out of it — including one dealing with unionization.
The Senate bill removed the unionization provision.
"We want a successful industry if we're going to have it, and so I'm going to wait and see what comes to my desk," Youngkin said.
Supporters are hoping the bill will make it across the finish line.
"I'm super excited about it. If you just walk into a store and pick out what you want and see the cannabinoid content and terpene profile, it's a lot better than buying stuff and you don't know what it is," said Dustin Weekley, a co-owner of Bountifuel Utopia in Norfolk.