Feb 22, 2023 - Politics

Virginia in weed purgatory as lawmakers refuse action

Illustration of a gavel, but the handle is a marijuana joint.

Illustration: Maura Losch/Axios

Virginia may be the first state in the South to legalize possession of marijuana, but actually getting some marijuana to possess doesn't look like it's getting easier anytime soon.

What's happening: Republican lawmakers in the House once again shot down a bill that would legalize retail sales and are pushing to defund the state's new Cannabis Control Authority, which was established to regulate the marijuana market.

Why it matters: The decision comes amid a crackdown on the state's gray market, which has thrived with no legal outlets to purchase the drug.

  • Lawmakers are working on legislation to shut down the hemp-based synthetic THC market that has exploded in tobacco shops and gas stations, which Gov. Youngkin identified as a top priority earlier this year amid a surge in poison control incidents and safety concerns.
  • Versions of the bill have passed both the House and the Senate.

Meanwhile, police in Richmond announced a crackdown last week on pop-up weed markets, calling them dangerous and "a significant threat to the quality of life in our community."

  • The statement came after officers raided an event hosted by Happy Trees Agricultural Supplies, which authorities allege was hosting vendors advertising marijuana sales during events at its South Richmond warehouse.
  • Police said they seized 127 pounds of marijuana, 150 pounds of edibles containing marijuana and 14 pounds of psychedelic mushrooms, according to court records.

Police have charged Josiah Ickes, one of Happy Trees' cofounders, with two felony distribution charges.

  • Ickes' lawyer, Daniel Bounds, declined to comment on the case.

🪴 Be smart: Marijuana is legal to possess (up to one ounce in public), grow (no more than four plants) and gift (but not in the pretend D.C. way).

  • But it’s still a felony to sell the plant outside of the state's medical marijuana program.

Flashback: When Democratic lawmakers voted along party lines to legalize marijuana possession two years ago, they couldn't agree on the details of retail sales and decided they'd give themselves another year to figure it out.

  • Then they lost control of the House of Delegates and the governor's office.

What they're saying: House Republicans said they were looking to Youngkin for guidance on the issue since he'll ultimately have to sign any bill. Meanwhile, Youngkin told VPM last week that it's on the legislature.

  • "I don't write legislation for them; they've got to sort this out," Youngkin said.

The other side: "I think people who want to see progress on legalized sales for cannabis need to remember this election year which party has stood in the way," Sen. Adam Ebbin, D-Alexandria, told Axios.

Editor’s note: This story has been corrected to note that it is legal in Virginia to possess up to 1 ounce of cannabis in public in Virginia, not 4 ounces.


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