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Now That Virginia Has Legalized Marijuana, What's Happens Next?

AP Photo/ Hans Pennink, File

Now that lawmakers have taken action to legalize marijuana, they still need to make decisions about how the new industry will be regulated.

Marijuana will be fully legal on July 1st, but commercial sales won't begin until 2024. That gives lawmakers plenty of time to set up the new industry and figure out how it’s going to work.  


Governor Ralph Northam and House Democrats want to create worker protections for the new industry, preventing license holders from taking sides in union organizing efforts and requiring them to pay a prevailing wage.  


Steven Haner at the Thomas Jefferson Institute says that's a bad idea. 


"These are state licensees, just like a contractor or a doctor or a lawyer or your plumber," says Haner. "There's no other state licensee where the licensing requirements are tied into basically what I consider a very pro-union interpretation.” 


Michael Wilson at United Food and Commercial Workers Local 400 says prohibiting worker misclassification and union busting actually fits in nicely with the purpose of the new industry. 


"This is an industry that was specifically designed to combat some of the problems and failures that were caused by the War on Drugs," explains Wilson. "And specifically the impact on certain communities, especially Black communities and brown communities." 


The issue of what kind of worker protections exist for the newly-created marijuana industry is likely to be one of the key debates in the next General Assembly session in 2022. 


This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.

Michael Pope is an author and journalist who lives in Old Town Alexandria.