ROANOKE, Va. – Marijuana legalization continues to be a hot debate in the commonwealth.
Senate Bill 1406, which looks to make the drug legal, went to the Senate Rehabilitation and Social Services subcommittee Tuesday morning.
One of the topics lawmakers discussed was the regulation of commercial marijuana by determining who will have the authority.
While some people lean toward the Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control Authority (VABC), others want an independent agency to regulate it instead.
“NORML does support and prefer a regulatory agency that is specific to cannabis.“ Jenn Michelle Pedini, the executive director of Virginia NORML, said. “It is understandable the legislation is looking to leverage the resources already available through ABC but it remains to be determined if that is the best regulatory pathway.”
Virginia NORML is the Virginia state affiliate of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.
Opposers of marijuana legalization believe public health is being outshined by commercialization.
A 30% tax rate on cannabis sales could produce up to $308 million in revenue for Virginia, according to a recent study from the Joint Legislative Audit & Review Commission (JLARC).
“What it’s going to cost to pay for the consequences is going to far outweigh any taxation money any program may receive,” said Substance Abuse Free Environment (SAFE) Executive Director Regina Whitsett.
Pedini is more concerned about black markets forming if the tax rate is that high.
One of the main concerns law enforcement has is the potential for people to drive while under the influence of marijuana.
They fear legalization could lead to a spike in traffic accidents and officers will have no device to measure the level of drug use on the spot.
“There is no test for that,” explained Loudoun County Sheriff Mike Chapman. “It’s going to be very difficult to determine who is under the influence. It’s all just by observation.”
“But they can and they are [managing].” Pedini said. “Virginia’s driving under the influence laws are more than competent now for handling impaired driving and that will remain the case post-legalization.”
Though the bill is talking about adult use, some are concerned about how this will affect the youth.
“Youth perceive that any substance that is legal is safe. And as we all know legal does not necessarily mean safe,” said Hanover Cares Executive Director Octavia Marsh.
But Pedini said the youth are already finding ways to attain marijuana and regulation is needed.
“It’s time to take marijuana off the street corner and put it behind an age-verified counter,” Pedini added.
The Senate Rehabilitation and Social Services subcommittee will discuss it again Wednesday morning and the state House scheduled a discussion for Friday.