Virginia Lawmakers Approve Competing Retail Sales Bills

Just ahead of the crossover deadline for the 2024 legislative session, members of both chambers of the Virginia legislature approved competing measures to legalize and regulate the retail sale of cannabis to adults 21 and older.

Both bills initiate retail adult-use cannabis sales on January 1, 2025, Delegate Paul Krizek’s HB698proposes a tax rate of nine percent in lieu of any state or local retail sales tax, whereas Senator Aaron Rouse’s SB448 imposes a 16 percent tax in addition to any state and local sales taxes.

NORML's JM Pedini

NORML Development Director JM Pedini testified in support of both bills. Pedini suggesting amendments to SB448; specifically they asked lawmakers to remove criminal penalties for those who make cannabis products intended for personal use (like tinctures and baked goods) and for possessing lawful amounts in public.

Both marijuana retail sales bills now cross over to the opposite chamber. It is anticipated that members of each chamber will amend the other’s bill with a substitute of their own version before referring them to a final conference committee to reconcile their differences.

“The real work will be done in conference committee, at which point conferees must decide if these are simply messaging bills, or if they intend to send Governor Youngkin something palatable enough for him to even consider not vetoing,” said NORML’s Pedini, who also serves as Virginia NORML Executive Director.

Earlier this year, Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin told reporters “I just don’t have a lot of interest in pressing forward with marijuana legislation.”

Under state law, adults 21 and older may legally possess up to one ounce of marijuana in public and cultivate up to four plants per household for personal use. However, retail sales in Virginia are currently only permitted for qualified medical patients.

Virginia’s legalization law, enacted in 2021 at a time when Democrats controlled the House, Senate, and Governorship, called for retail cannabis sales to begin no later than January 1, 2024. When Republicans gained control of the House and Governorship in 2022, no legislation establishing rules and regulations for state-licensed retailers succeeded and sales were not permitted to begin. Democrats now control both the House and the Senate, clearing a path for cannabis retail sales legislation to advance to the governor’s desk.

“Absent a legal marketplace, Virginia’s illicit market has since ballooned from $1.8 billion in 2021 to $2.4 billion in 2023,” added Pedini. “Unfortunately, consumers don’t know whether they’re getting a safe product or one contaminated with potentially dangerous adulterants. Unregulated marijuana isn’t lab tested for purity and it isn’t sold in packaging that is both childproof and not appealing to children,” they said. “Ultimately, Governor Youngkin will have to decide if he’s more interested in allowing unlicensed, unregulated operators to continue controlling cannabis in the Commonwealth or if he’s finally ready to extend the same commonsense provisions already used to regulate the legal sale medical cannabis in Virginia to adult-use retail.”

Additional legislation expanding employment protections for medical cannabis patients to include public employees, protecting parental rights, and improve the state’s medical cannabis program has also crossed over. Republican-introduced bills attempting to establish unscientific per se THC blood limits for motorists were never docketed for a hearing and are subsequently dead for this legislative session.