Adults in Virginia will be able to legally buy cannabis starting on Sept. 15 if a 451-page bill passed by the state Senate on Tuesday afternoon becomes law. Though its path remains uncertain in the House of Delegates, where the GOP-controlled committees have so far avoided taking up the issue, the bill would launch recreational marijuana sales early by letting current medical cannabis and hemp businesses enter the adult-use market.
A handful of companies would be able to begin selling cannabis in September under the bill from Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria): the three companies that currently control Virginia’s medical marijuana market (MMJ) as well as up to ten registered, industrial hemp processors, reported the local public radio network VPM.
Under current law, medical marijuana processors in Virginia are allowed to open five additional retail sites aside from the place where they grow and process cannabis. Those stores would also be allowed to sell to all adult customers under Ebbin’s bill. The industrial hemp sites would be allowed to open up two additional retail sites aside from the place where they grow marijuana.
Other retailers would have to wait nearly 15 months, until January of 2024, to begin sales. Ebbin says the transition period will help curb the black market. Ebbin's bill requires medical marijuana companies to “incubate five qualified social equity applicant retailers for a period of six months or support and educate qualified social equity applicants that wish to participate in the cannabis market.”
“It will ensure the little guy – especially those most disadvantaged by the prohibition on cannabis – receive the seed funding and startup support necessary to slingshot small Virginia businesses into economic success,” Ebbin said.
Equity and free-market advocates have pushed for everyone to start at the same time, arguing that the headstart gives big players an unfair advantage. In a report published last week, the Minority Cannabis Business Association noted similar arrangements in other states have resulted in “a lack of diversity and the proliferation of the legacy market.”
Despite its complexity, the Senate spent less than 20 minutes debating Ebbin’s bill. Three Republicans voted in favor of the bill and one Democrat sat out the vote.
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