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Alexandria leaders watching marijuana retail legislation ‘grow’ with interest

Marijuana was legalized in 2021, but Alexandria is hoping 2023 is the year the state finally settles the weird issues around selling weed.

Currently, it’s legal to possess small amounts of pot and grow them at home, but it’s still illegal to buy it commercially without a medical card.

Among the dozens of bills related to everything from historic preservation commission membership to laws around disability language, the status of marijuana is one that city leaders said could grow as the session goes on.

At a meeting of the City Council Legislative Subcommittee last week, Alexandria leaders took a look at House Bill 1464 from Del. Keith Hodges (R-98).

According to the state’s legislative information system, the bill:

Establishes a framework for the creation of a retail marijuana market in the Commonwealth, which would be administered by the Virginia Cannabis Control Authority. The bill allows the Authority to begin issuing marijuana licenses on July 1, 2024. The bill allows, beginning July 1, 2023, certain pharmaceutical and industrial hemp processors, pending establishment of the retail market, to cultivate, manufacture, and sell cannabis products to persons 21 years of age or older.

Legislative Director Sarah Taylor said the Republican majority in the House of Delegates might address the retail sale of marijuana in a large bill or could push the responsibility away from the legislative side of government.

“Do you get the sense that there is the feeling from the house majority that they need to figure out marijuana this year?” Mayor Justin Wilson asked ‘bluntly’.

“Yes, but I think what ‘figure it out’ means could be two different ways,” Taylor said. “One would be cleaning up a full bill… it could be another big bill. The other thought is it could be a skinny bill that just kicks the whole thing to the regulatory environment. Instead of legislating it, [this would be] putting it all in code. It would provide some guardrails and kick it to the regulatory environment.”

The one legislation Taylor said seemed certain to move forward is legislation connected to restricting “youth access” to marijuana.

The topic of legalizing the retail sale of marijuana also touches on a long-festering issue dividing local and state leadership: the Dillon Rule, which says localities can only exercise authorities granted to them by the state.

Taylor said some localities have tried to use zoning to prohibit marijuana from being sold in their communities, which has rubbed some state leadership the wrong way.

“The one thing we should be thoughtful about is what this means for our zoning authority,” Taylor said. “My understanding is some of the folks involved in our negotiations last year are unhappy with localities that have used their authority to essentially redline cannabis retail out of parts of their community. Those localities have made some of those folks grumpy and the rest of us may have to suffer a little bit for that.”

Taylor said the discussion is likely to “grow and evolve” as the legislative session continues.

“I do agree they need to figure this out,” Wilson said. “I like the idea of them figuring this out sooner rather than later.”

Photo via Wesley Gibbs/Unsplash