ROANOKE, Va. – Moving a step closer to potentially legalizing marijuana in the Commonwealth, a Senate committee advances legislation by an 8 to 7 vote.
The Senate Rehabilitation and Social Services Committee Friday approved an opt-out clause for localities to have marijuana businesses operate in their jurisdictions.
A concern for the Virginia Municipal League as they were pushing for municipalities to have the ability to opt-in instead.
“We believe this is a sensitive issue and should be done by empowering localities to opt. Instead of demanding they must opt-out through a potentially time-consuming and costly process,” Virginia Municipal League Mitchell Smiley said.
Some panel members say businesses with marijuana sales should be treated similarly to alcohol businesses.
“Virginia currently provides an opt-out mechanism for alcohol and this should be no different,” Virginia NORML Executive Director Jenn Michelle Pedini said.
Normally, the opt-out procedure means jurisdictions need a referendum, which is a lengthy process, Smiley points out.
“That would require 10 percent of the citizens of a locality to sign a petition and submit it to a certain court,” he said.
However, Smiley understands there could be changes to how opting out would work.
When it comes to regulation, originally the bill suggested the Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control Authority along with a small advisory board, should regulate commercial marijuana.
Pedini prefers an independent cannabis agency to not only regulate but “to address the numerous equity provisions that would need to be implemented.”
The panel recommended forming a new regulatory agency with quarterly progress updates, but this could push back the Governor’s goal of legalizing sales by 2023 by an extra year.
The Senate committee also struck down the proposal to eliminate homegrown cannabis, a move Pedini agrees with.
“Many Virginians are going to be left out of the process without any reasonable measure of access to safe cannabis products in their area, particularly with the possibility of a local opt-out,” they said.
The bill will move to the Senate judiciary committee to be reviewed.