Marijuana legalization advances after Senate committee vote

ROANOKE, Virginia – Moving closer to the potential legalization of marijuana in the Commonwealth, a Senate committee is advancing legislation by 8 to 7 votes.

On Friday, the Senate Rehabilitation and Social Services Committee approved an exclusion clause allowing localities to operate marijuana businesses in their jurisdiction.

A concern for the Virginia Municipal League as it lobbied for municipalities to have the option to register instead.

“We think this is a sensitive issue and should be done by giving localities the power to choose. Instead of demanding, they must pull out through a potentially lengthy and expensive process, ”said Mitchell Smiley of the Virginia Municipal League.

Some panelists say companies that sell marijuana should be treated the same as alcohol companies.

“Virginia currently provides a withdrawal mechanism for alcohol and it shouldn’t be any different,” said Jenn Michelle Pedini, general manager of Virginia NORML.

Normally, the opt-out process means that the courts need a referendum, which is a long process, Smiley points out.

“It would require 10% of the citizens of a locality to sign a petition and submit it to a certain tribunal,” he said.

However, Smiley understands that there could be changes to how deactivation works.

Regarding regulation, the bill originally suggested that the Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control Authority, with a small advisory committee, should regulate commercial marijuana.

Pedini prefers an independent cannabis agency not only to regulate, but to “deal with the many fairness provisions that should be implemented.”

The committee recommended creating a new regulatory agency with quarterly progress updates, but that could set back the governor’s goal of legalizing sales by 2023 by a year.

The Senate committee also rescinded the proposal to eliminate local cannabis, a move Pedini agrees with.

“Many Virginians are going to be excluded from the process without any reasonable measure of access to safe cannabis products in their area, especially with the possibility of a local opt-out,” they said.

The bill will be referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee for consideration.

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