A Virginia Senate committee advanced a proposal Jan. 26 to create a commercial adult-use cannabis market in the state, nearly three years after former Gov. Ralph Northam signed an adult-use cannabis bill into law.
The Senate Rehabilitation and Social Services Subcommittee on Cannabis considered two competing measures Jan. 25 and ultimately advanced Senate Bill 448, sponsored by Sen. Aaron Rouse, D-Virginia Beach, after merging it with Senate Bill 423, sponsored by Sen. Adam Ebbin, D-Alexandria.
The full Senate Rehabilitation and Social Services Committee then passed S.B. 448 in a 10-5 vote on Jan. 26.
Northam signed legislation in April 2021 that allows adults 21 and older to possess up to an ounce of cannabis and grow up to four plants at home for personal use. The bill set a 2024 target date to launch commercial adult-use sales but included a reenactment clause that required the General Assembly to reauthorize certain provisions and establish a regulatory framework for the market.
Legislative efforts to create this framework and launch commercial sales have repeatedly stalled in Richmond after Republicans took control of the House of Delegates and Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin took office in 2022, although Democrats regained control of the House in 2024.
During the subcommittee meeting on the legislation, lawmakers were at odds over a provision in Ebbin’s S.B. 423 that would have provided Virginia’s medical cannabis licensees a six-month head start in serving the adult-use market starting July 1, Cardinal News reported. Ebbin’s proposal would have also required these medical cannabis operators to incubate smaller businesses.
“I’m not very comfortable with a head start,” said Sen. Schuyler VanValkenburg, D-Henrico County, a member of the committee. “I think we can have a process where everybody is trying at the same time to make it work.”
Rouse’s proposal created a more level playing field for all businesses, making it more palatable for lawmakers, according to Cardinal News.
S.B. 448 would also allow outdoor cannabis cultivation, which was prohibited under Ebbin’s proposal, the news outlet reported.
Meanwhile, in the House, Del. Paul Krizek, D-Alexandria, sponsors House Bill 698, which is identical to Ebbin’s S.B. 423.
VanValkenburg said H.B. 698 will likely reach the Senate later during this year’s legislative session, offering the chance to “continue to have conversations” on the proposal, according to Cardinal News.
“It’s probably valuable to have two different vehicles moving in across the Capitol,” VanValkenburg said.
Rouse indicated his willingness to consider provisions in Ebbin’s bill as S.B. 448 continues its way through the legislative process.
“We’re hearing from law enforcement from Scott County to Virginia Beach that this is turning into a true public safety and public health crisis,” Rouse said, according to Cardinal News. “But regardless of where you stand on the legalization of marijuana, we all can agree that we are never going to recriminalize it, so therefore it is up to us to finally create a well-regulated adult-use market.”