Pot languishes In the weeds

Published 3:32 pm Friday, April 15, 2022

Virginia’s awkward dalliance with recreational marijuana is even messier than it was a year ago, when lawmakers authorized possession without any means for legally purchasing. Legislation in this year’s regular session of the General Assembly has made the picture even muddier.

Capital News Service’s Josephine Walker reports that Sen. Emmett Hanger, R-Augusta, introduced Senate Bill 591 to “restrict the use of products that appeal to children through gummies.”

That seemed reasonable, but lawmakers passed an amended version of Hanger’s bill redefining marijuana as any cannabis product with over .3% THC (the main psychoactive compound in marijuana) or .25 milligrams of THC per serving, which covers even some non-intoxicating CBD products.

Many stores have been selling a variety of CBD-based, low-THC products for a variety of reasons and ailments. Senate President Pro Tempore Louise Lucas, D-Portsmouth, is co-owner of a Norfolk shop that sells “legal” CBD products. Some products sold at the store were over the threshold for allowed THC, according to a report published by the Virginia Mercury. Her dispensary and many others could be affected by Hanger’s legislation.

While lawmakers dance around full-fledged marijuana legalization, the truth is that anyone who wants to buy actual, high-quantity THC marijuana can easily find it.

“Some sellers offer delivery options and showcase product menus on social media,” Walker writes. “Many people began operating in those spaces when marijuana possession was decriminalized and in anticipation of the legal recreational market that many thought was greenlit for 2024.”

Both Republicans and Democrats in Richmond seem to agree that a legal marijuana marketplace is still the way to go, as it would generate substantial tax revenue off an activity that’s happening regardless. The regular session ended, however, with no final framework for sales.

The legalization bill that passed last year needed to be reenacted in the 2022 session, but a House committee continued the bill to the 2023 session, jeopardizing the previously planned January 2024 start date for recreational sales. For now, Walker writes, the only way marijuana can be obtained legally is if it is grown or gifted, or if an individual has a state-issued medical marijuana card.

That’s a lot of tax revenue going up in smoke.