September 30, 2022
Happy Friday and last day of September.
☔️ Today's weather: Rain, mainly after 9am. High near 63.
Situational awareness: This weekend's 2nd Street Festival is canceled because of the rainy forecast, Venture Richmond announced late Thursday morning.
- Yes, but: Grandmaster Flash, who was set to headline, will still perform at a free concert inside at the Hippodrome Theater in Jackson Ward.
- Doors open at 4:30pm; show is 5-8pm. Capacity is limited.
Today's newsletter is 925 words — a 3.5-minute read.
1 big thing: 🏛️ Outlook dim for retail weed sales
When Virginia lawmakers voted almost two years ago to legalize marijuana, their 2024 target date to begin retail sales struck many as a long time to wait.
What's happening: It's starting to look like it might not even happen in 2024.
State of play: Any legislation authorizing retail sales in 2024 would have to pass when the General Assembly convenes for the next session in January.
- That means it would still have to get past the same GOP majority that refused to give the issue a hearing last session.
What they're saying: "Nothing has changed that I'm aware of," Garren Shipley, spokesperson for House Speaker Todd Gilbert, tells Axios.
Catch up fast: Virginia lawmakers voted to legalize possession but not sales of recreational marijuana in July 2021.
- The decision to wait until 2024 to begin retail sales was initially intended to give lawmakers and regulators a three-year runway to set up the market, but before Democrats finalized the plan, they lost control of the House and governor's office, thrusting the state into weed purgatory.
Yes, but: Some lobbyists working on legalization remain hopeful Senate Democrats and House Republicans can reach an agreement on the issue.
- Greg Habeeb, a former GOP delegate who represents the Virginia Cannabis Association, says that last year Republicans barely had a month to work on the issue between winning the majority back and the beginning of the legislative session.
- "When we get to session next year, Republicans will have had a full year of being in charge and studying Republican solutions," Habeeb says.
Between the lines: There are signs some key Republicans are taking an interest in the issue, with lawmakers representing agricultural areas taking the lead, including House Majority Leader Terry Kilgore.
- But even if the GOP does play ball this year, the big question will be whether the two sides can "craft a version of the bill that can pick up Republican support without losing Democratic support," Habeeb says.
2. 🤫 Virginia's thriving illicit market
It may still be illegal to buy marijuana, but it's never been easier.
What's happening: The illicit market has moved from the shadows to social media, where cannabis entrepreneurs willing to take a risk openly advertise delivery services and pop-up events.
- Some dealers are even blanketing neighborhoods and events with business cards.
What they're saying: "Someone came up to our booth at Pride and dropped off business cards — it has their business name and a method of contact to buy weed," JM Pedini, the executive director of the legalization advocacy group Virginia NORML, tells Axios.
Meanwhile, plenty of brick-and-mortar shops continue to sell synthetic THC products despite warnings by state regulators and Attorney General Jason Miyares.
- State food safety regulators said they have performed 2,500 inspections since July 1 to "to educate food manufacturers and retail food establishments and encourage voluntary compliance," according to a spokesman.
Why it matters: The proliferation of unregulated sales exposes people to untested and potentially unsafe products, Pedini said.
What we're watching: Lobbyists and legislators working on the issue tell us the booming illicit and gray market is the No. 1 case for getting Republicans on board with legalizing retail sales.
3. The Current: A.P. Hill's last stand
🧑⚖️ A Richmond judge will rule within 30 days on the city's petition to remove the statue of A.P. Hill, the last city-owned Confederate statue still standing in Richmond. (Times-Dispatch)
- A court order is required to remove it because A.P. Hill is buried inside the statue.
🐘 Some moderate supporters of Gov. Glenn Youngkin are concerned that he's tainting his national profile — and potential — by supporting election-denying Republican candidates. (Washington Post)
⛲️ Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden is expanding with the purchase of 6.2 acres from nearby Lakeside Baptist Church for $1.9 million. (Henrico Citizen)
- Henrico County will contribute $750,000 over three years.
4. 🏥 By the numbers: medical marijuana
With recreational retail sales still in limbo, the state's 2-year-old medical cannabis program remains the only legal route for Virginians to buy marijuana.
There are currently around 20,300 active patients getting cannabis products in the state — a sixfold increase since Jan. 2021, Ngiste Abebe, vice president of public policy at Columbia Care, tells Axios.
- Columbia Care controls two of the state's four licenses to process marijuana for medicinal use — gLeaf in the Richmond area and Cannabist in Hampton Roads.
Zoom in: Pain, anxiety and insomnia are the most common reasons patients seek a prescription, Abebe tells Axios.
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5. 🩺 It's extremely easy to get a marijuana prescription
👋 Karri here, newly minted as a medical marijuana patient after an approximately four-minute Zoom doctor's visit.
What's happening: To find out how hard it is to get a marijuana prescription, I decided to get one myself.
State of play: There are more than 1,000 registered practitioners for medical cannabis, per the Virginia Board of Pharmacy, but I headed to Virginia NORML to check out their list of a dozen or so practices.
- I settled on CannabisMD TeleMed, which boasted $99 appointments and a 99% approval rate, plus my money back if I wasn't approved.
Three hours later, I was on Zoom talking to a physician's assistant, who, while professional and courteous, was sitting in a visibly untidy home office.
- I told him that I occasionally feel anxious as my dog barked through the entire appointment, which made it super easy to appear anxious — and possibly also ragey.
And just like that — three hours and four minutes after making an appointment — I had a certificate emailed to me that I could use immediately to buy medical marijuana in Virginia.
The bottom line: Marijuana is effectively legal as long as you can afford the medical appointment.
This newsletter was edited by Fadel Allassan and copy edited by Carlin Becker.
😇 Karri wants to make sure her mom focuses on the fact that she got the best deal on a marijuana card, not that she got one.
🤔 Ned is wondering what this marijuana stuff is all about.