As the push for cannabis legalization continues to gain momentum across the United States, two states have recently made strides toward adult-use legalization. Virginia and West Virginia, both relatively small states with populations of just over 8 million and 1.8 million, respectively, have announced new bills that would allow for the production, sales, and consumption of recreational marijuana.
With these developments, the two states join a growing number of others that have embraced the legalization of cannabis for adult use.
Virginia’s and West Virginia’s proposed bills signal a shift in attitudes toward cannabis at both the state and national levels. As more and more states move towards legalization, it is becoming increasingly clear that the prohibition of marijuana is no longer sustainable.
Happy to see so much support this morning for SB 423 and HB698, the cannabis retail marketplace bills introduced by myself and Delegate @KrizekForVa! @cecofva @richmondcfv @VMCCEquity33 @btgvirginia pic.twitter.com/NqsupiqEc0— Adam Ebbin 🇺🇦 (@AdamEbbin) January 18, 2024
Virginia’s Path to Adult-Use Cannabis
The road to legalization began in 2018 when Virginia’s governor signed a bill allowing the Virginia State Board of Pharmacy to approve the applications for five companies to open medical cannabis dispensaries across the Commonwealth.
In February 2020, the House of Delegates voted 64–34 in favor of HB972 to decriminalize personal possession of marijuana
In 2021, Virginia became the first state in the South to legalize adult-use cannabis. This monumental achievement was the result of a long and tumultuous journey towards legalization. But Republicans, after winning control of the House and a new Republican Governor in 2021, blocked the required reenactment of a regulatory framework for retail sales.
However, even with some sort of legalization in place, there were still many details to be ironed out before retail sales could begin. Even though adult-use cannabis was legal, there was no legal market set in place, resulting in people turning to illicit means to obtain cannabis.
A 2023 report by New Frontier Data estimated that $2.4 billion worth of cannabis would be sold in Virginia, but 99% of that would be sold illegally due to the lack of recreational sales.
This showed the urgent need for future legislation to establish a regulated and legal market for adult-use cannabis in Virginia.
Virginia’s Latest Effort for Adult-Use Cannabis Sales
Earlier this month, state Sen. Adam Ebbin (D) and Del. Paul Krizek (D) introduced identical bills, SB 423 and HB 698, that would allow for the issue of medical licenses starting on July 24 and a limited number of other licenses beginning in 2025.
“Establishes a framework for the creation of a retail marijuana market in the Commonwealth, to be administered by the Virginia Cannabis Control Authority. The bill allows the Authority to begin issuing all marijuana licenses on July 1, 2025; however, the bill allows certain pharmaceutical processors to begin operations on July 1, 2024, and allows a limited number of other licensees to begin operations on January 1, 2025.”
While the Democrats taking control of both the House and Senate in last year’s elections was seen as a promising development for adult-use cannabis legalization in Virginia, there are still potential obstacles and challenges that could affect the success of this proposed bill.
One major challenge is the stance of Governor Glenn Youngkin on marijuana legislation. Youngkin whose interference is credited with causing the failed bill for adult-use in 2021.
And his opinion doesn’t appear to have changed; speaking to reporters after his State of the Commonwealth address, Youngkin said, “I just don’t have a lot of interest in pressing forward with marijuana legislation.” according to The Virginian-Pilot.
Despite the potential challenges, there is hope that Virginia will finally join the growing number of states with legal adult-use cannabis markets. With the newly introduced bills and a Democratic-controlled legislature, it seems that the state is more than ready for adult-use legalization.
However, Governor Youngkin’s stance on marijuana legislation presents a tough fight for advocates and lawmakers pushing for this bill. It will be crucial for them to address and alleviate any concerns or opposition that the governor may have in order to move forward with their plans.
West Virginia’s Proposed Bill for Adult-Use Cannabis Legalization
In a similar move to Virginia, West Virginia has also introduced a bill that would legalize adult-use cannabis in the state.
House Bill 4873, introduced by Democratic Del. Evan Hansen, would establish a regulated market for adult-use cannabis sales in the state.
This proposed bill shares many similarities with the one introduced last year in 2023, named House Bill 2091, which was introduced by Danielle Walker (D-Monongalia), but it never made it out of the House Health and Human Resources Committee.
If HB 4873 is approved, it gives county commissions the power to decide if they will allow the production and sale of marijuana to adults aged 21 and up within their county. This decision would be made through a county election.
According to WVNews.com, the proposed bill also includes a 15% excise tax on the sales price of marijuana, which would go into a “Cannabis Transfer Tax Fund.” The tax revenue would be allocated as follows:
1. Half of the funds would be directed to the Public Employees Insurance Agency Stability Fund.
2. A quarter of the funds would be directed to the Fight Substance Abuse Fund.
3. One-eighth of the funds would be given to the Division of Justice and Community Services. These funds would be used for grants to state and local law enforcement agencies for community relations training and identifying drivers under the influence of marijuana.
4. One-eighth of the funds would go to the state’s General Fund. These funds would be used for state employee pay raises.
5. All funds collected from license fees and administrative penalties would go to the Department of Health and Human Resources.
In addition, a 6% local sales tax would be imposed. Half of the revenue from this tax would go to the county, and the other half would go to municipalities.
When West Virginia passed Senate Bill 386 in 2017, many residents were hopeful for the legalization of medical cannabis and the potential benefits it could bring. However, they were soon met with a lengthy delay between legislation and the actual launch of sales.
It wasn’t until July 1, 2019, that the state was able to “issue the patient and caregiver identification cards necessary to obtain medical cannabis.” This delay was due to multiple factors such as the need for developing regulations and procedures, issuing licenses to growers and processors, and establishing a tracking system for products.
The lengthy process for implementing medical cannabis legalization in the state serves as a cautionary tale for adult-use legalization. Even if House Bill 4873 is approved, it could still take years before sales can actually begin.
Moreover, there may be additional challenges and delays specific to adult-use legalization. For example, county elections would need to be held to determine if individual counties will allow the production and sale of marijuana. This could prolong the process even further, potentially leading to a longer wait for legalization.
Another lesson learned from West Virginia’s medical cannabis implementation process is the importance of having clear regulations and procedures in place before launching sales. Without them, there can be confusion and delays that ultimately hinder the success of the industry.
Therefore, it is crucial for lawmakers and advocates to learn from this experience and ensure that all necessary regulations and procedures are in place before launching adult-use cannabis sales. This will not only expedite the process but also help avoid potential pitfalls and challenges.
As Virginia and West Virginia announce new bills for adult-use cannabis, there is a sense of hope and excitement among residents. These states could potentially join the wave of other states that have already legalized recreational marijuana. However, it’s important to note that this process may not be easy or fast.
Governor Youngkin’s clear anti-cannabis stance in Virginia presents an uphill battle for legalization. Meanwhile, West Virginia’s proposed bill looks promising, but the lengthy delay in implementing medical cannabis serves as a cautionary tale for adult-use legalization.
It’s crucial for lawmakers to learn from past experiences and ensure that all necessary regulations and procedures are in place before launching sales.
But, if either of these states successfully passes adult-use cannabis legislation, it could have a significant impact on the legalization movement. With almost half of all US states having a recreational cannabis program, this could potentially pressure the government for federal legalization.
Only time will tell, but for now, Virginia and West Virginia are making strides toward a more inclusive and progressive cannabis industry.