Missed opportunity on the pot – The Virginian-Pilot
Virginians knew to expect a tense legislative session when lawmakers came to Richmond this year, but there was hope that a divided state government could find agreement on at least some issues. It was believed, according to lawmakers themselves, that creating a legal marijuana retail market would be part of that.
When lawmakers return to Capitol Hill this week to consider Governor Glenn Youngkin’s vetoes and amendments to the bill, only modest changes on this issue await — due to the General Assembly’s inability to find ground. viable agreement.
That leaves Virginia in place while other states move forward, and it means the Commonwealth will waste its chance to reap the kind of windfall that could dramatically change the fortunes of the state.
New Jersey began selling recreational marijuana to adults ages 21 and older on Thursday, becoming the latest state to create a legal cannabis market. Voters there approved a statewide referendum to legalize marijuana in November 2020, and lawmakers have spent time since creating a regulatory authority, licensing protocols and establishing of the framework needed to begin legal sales last week.
In doing so, New Jersey followed a trail set by states before it. He didn’t need to invent the wheel, only to borrow successful ideas that worked elsewhere and adapt them to better suit the local landscape.
Moving forward, aggressively but thoughtfully, should pay dividends.
Governor Philip Murphy told The New York Times that recreational sales in New Jersey could total $2 billion over the next four years, which is expected to mean $30 million in tax revenue for fiscal year 2022 and $121 million dollars for 2023. A substantial portion of this money will be invested in Black and Latino communities disproportionately affected by the War on Drugs.
Meanwhile, Virginia — which last year became the first Southern state to legalize marijuana — remains in limbo. Possessing up to one ounce is legal, as is growing up to four plants, but the lack of a retail market means the Commonwealth is short on tax revenue.
This is no doubt partly due to the failure of the General Assembly last year to agree on a compromise roadmap for moving forward. Although the House, Senate and governor’s mansion were all controlled by Democrats, they could not reach an agreement on important issues such as expungement of criminal records and an emphasis on fairness. social in licensing and revenue investment.
So while marijuana was effectively legalized on July 1, Virginians cannot go to a store to buy it or buy seeds to grow it. The law envisions a retail market by 2024, but that seems extremely slow considering how quickly a state like New Jersey has moved from an election referendum to opening the doors to retail sales.
After all, it’s not like Virginia still has to come up with a “to do” list for establishing and regulating a retail market. The Joint Audit and Legislative Review Commission has studied the issue extensively and outlined the steps needed to proceed smartly and quickly.
Before this year’s session, it was thought that it might even inspire bipartisan cooperation in Richmond. Several Republicans in the House have expressed a desire to speed up the schedule for legal sales, eager for Virginia to gain access to a lucrative new revenue stream.
But despite the action in the Senate, the GOP-led House did not act, opting instead to delay action for another year.
This means that Virginia will continue to have people in legal danger and perpetuate an illicit marijuana market estimated by cannabis advocates as the fourth largest in the nation. And that means the Commonwealth can only watch with envy as New Jersey and other states reap the rewards of swift action.
The inability of lawmakers to act this year is a deep disappointment, compounded by the fact that it was a lack of will — not a lack of know-how — that was the hurdle too great for Richmond to overcome.