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Effort to move up commercial marijuana sales moves forward in Senate, but future is hazy in the House

Marijuana Legalization Virginia
Steve Helber
In this Thursday June 17, 2021 file photo cannabis plants are close to harvest in a grow room at the Greenleaf Medical Cannabis facility in Richmond.

Legal sales of marijuana could begin as early as September.

When the General Assembly legalized marijuana last year, the plan was to start legal sales on New Year’s Day 2024. But that leaves the black market as the only way to buy a legal substance for years. That's why Senator Adam Ebbin has a bill that would speed up the timeline, allowing cannabis dispensaries to start selling marijuana in September of this year.

"It ensures that consumers can purchase safe and regulated products legally until the full market is open and it begins the long but crucial process of capturing illicit market sales, reducing crime and building a base for the market," Ebbin says.

Currently, dispensaries can sell marijuana to patients on the recommendation of a doctor. But this bill would allow the dispensaries to sell the product to anyone. Senator Jeremy McPike says this is a logical approach to undermining the black market.

"We want to make sure we have the appropriate amount of transition as well as elicit market capture," explains McPike.

Ebbin's bill also keeps the model for social equity licenses that would allow sales starting in 2024, an approach aimed at helping communities that were disproportionately harmed by the war on drugs. That's an idea that's already been rejected by the Republican-controlled House, so the future of this effort is still a bit hazy.

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.