A Virginia House subcommittee voted against Senate-approved legislation that would have cleared the way for legal adult-use cannabis sales in the state as early as September.

The measure had cleared the Democratic-controlled Virginia Senate in an historic bipartisan vote but now appears to be dead in the water after House lawmakers voted along party lines, with Republicans unanimously opposed.

“I think this is a bigger issue than we can correct in two weeks’ time,” said Del. Jeff Campbell (R) following the vote.

Virginia Democrats responded with dismay and said delaying access to legal marijuana for recreational consumers in the state would only benefit the illicit industry.

“The longer we wait to have a regulated market, the harder it will be to compete with that illicit market,” said Del. Dawn Adams (D).

Last year, the General Assembly came to an agreement that would allow adults to possess and grow cannabis, but legal sales remain off the table for now. Under the bill signed into law by Gov. Ralph Northam last year, lawmakers and state regulators must get a legal cannabis market up and running in Virginia by summer 2024.

The only legal ways to obtain marijuana in Virginia is to grow it yourself, receive it as a gift or purchase it from a medical marijuana dispensary as a registered patient with a doctor’s recommendation.

Many Democrats argue the lack of legal means to purchase cannabis means many Virginians are turning to the illicit market, which results in lost tax dollars and will make it harder for the legal market to compete once it launches.

Following the November elections, the Democrats no longer hold a majority in the House so it’s now extra difficult to bring the date forward for legal cannabis sales in Virginia due to Republican intransigence to the reform.

Upon assuming control of the House, the GOP said it would work towards establishing a legal marijuana marketplace in Virginia, with House Speaker Todd Gilbert claiming the Democrats had left a mess that needed cleaning up. So far though, Republicans have yet to table a bill that would expedite legal adult-use cannabis sales.

In the wake of the House committee’s vote against the Senate-approved bill, Republicans earmarked mid to late 2023 as the earliest date by which legal retail sales would launch.

In the meantime, House Republicans voted for a bill that would regulate sales of delta-8 THC products in Virginia, but not before legal recreational cannabis sales begin. This lesser-known cannabinoid is less potent than standard delta-9 THC, which is primarily responsible for the high users experience from cannabis, but is considered by many as legal under state and federal law since it is derived from hemp, not marijuana.

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