Committees in Virginia’s GOP-controlled House of Delegates on Tuesday rejected bills to start adult-use marijuana sales and create a psilocybin advisory board while rescheduling the psychedelic.
A House General Laws subcommittee defeated the Senate-passed cannabis commerce legislation from Sen. Adam Ebbin (D) along party lines in a 5-3 vote.
The psilocybin measure from Sen. Ghazala Hashmi (D), which was also approved in the Senate this month, was rejected in the House Rules Committee, with members voting 13-5 to lay it on the table.
Meanwhile, the General Laws subcommittee also defeated a proposal to create a “Cannabis Incubator Project” in the state meant to support social equity objectives and small marijuana businesses.
A @VAHouse General Laws Subcommittee just killed my SB1366 to create the Virginia Cannabis Incubator Project on a party-line vote. The bill would have helped small/disadvantaged/undercapitalized farmers and entrepreneurs craft a boutique cannabis market. pic.twitter.com/V7scfcfZvb
— Jennifer McClellan (@JennMcClellanVA) February 14, 2023
Here are the main details of the marijuana and psilocybin bills:
Ebbin’s measure would have allowed recreational cannabis sales to begin on January 1, 2024. The legislature approved a bill to legalize possession and home cultivation of marijuana by adults 21 and older in 2021, and this measure would have created a regulatory framework for a commercial market.
Sales would have taken place through existing medical cannabis dispensaries as well as at new businesses run by people who live in “historically economically disadvantaged communities.” Those operators would have received training and support from current cannabis companies.
“We are kind of dragging our feet on establishing a retail market that could provide hundreds of millions in tax revenue,” Ebbin said during Tuesday’s hearing.
The bill also included provisions for the resentencing of people currently incarcerated for cannabis convictions. Marijuana products would have been subject to a 21 percent excise tax. Localities could have imposed an additional three percent tax.
Tax revenue from cannabis sales would have supported reinvestment programs for historically economically disadvantaged communities, pre-k education for at-risk youth and addiction prevention services.
The recreational marijuana market would have been regulated by the independent Cannabis Control Authority.
Meanwhile, the legislation also sought to establish regulations for hemp-derived cannabinoid products such as delta-8 THC, including testing and labeling requirements.
There have been open questions about how the state legislature would address cannabis commerce for adults in the 2023 session after lawmakers approved the possession legalization bill in 2021. That legislation included sales provisions but they were subject to reenactment, and lawmakers in 2022 did not act on the issue under the new Republican governor, Glenn Younkin, and GOP-controlled House of Delegates.
The House has since been a sticking point for advocates, with legislators largely divided on how to proceed with a possible commercial market. And now the chamber has dealt a major blow to that effort to permit sales.
The subcommittee vote, “while entirely expected, is still disappointing, and spotlights House Republicans’ continued failure of leadership on cannabis policy,” JM Pedini, executive director of Virginia NORML and development director at NORML, said in a blog post.
“This vote is another huge disappointment for Virginians, the majority of whom favor swift access to retail sales,” they said. “Legislation providing regulatory oversight is the best way for the Commonwealth to protect cannabis consumers. By failing to take legislative action, lawmakers are electing to continue driving consumers to the unregulated, underground market.”
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Psilocybin advisory board and rescheduling
Hashmi’s legislation that was defeated by the House Rules Committee on Tuesday would have created a psilocybin advisory board to advise on the issue, while also moving the psychedelic from Schedule I to Schedule III under state law.
The senator told House members before the vote about “extremely compelling” research into the therapeutic potential of psilocybin for certain conditions, adding that people who’ve gone through conventional treatments without success “actually found relief” with the psychedelic.
The bill’s defeat comes about a month after a separate House panel rejected a measure to legalize psilocybin for therapeutic use for people with serious conditions who obtain a doctor’s recommendation.
Hashmi’s legislation was more narrowly tailored than a proposal she filed last session to decriminalize psilocybin altogether.
The advisory board that was proposed would have been required to “develop a long-term strategic plan for establishing therapeutic access to psilocybin services and monitor and study federal laws, regulations, and policies regarding psilocybin,” the bill text states.
The governor would have been responsible for appointing 12 members to the board, including public health and safety officials, an addiction medicine specialist, a psychologist, a physicians specializing in post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a clinical researcher, a mycologist and more.
While it wouldn’t have allowed legal therapeutic use of psilocybin, the bill states that the advisory board would have been tasked with analyzing “scientific studies and research on the safety and efficacy of psilocybin in treating mental health conditions and on the requirements, specifications, and guidelines for providing psilocybin services in Virginia.”
Members would have needed to submit a report on its findings to the governor and legislature by December 1 of each year.
The measure also would have amended state statute to place psilocybin in Schedule III. Possession of substances in that schedule is considered a Class 1 misdemeanor punishable by a maximum one year in prison and a fine of up to $2,500.
Possession a Schedule I drug, where psilocybin is currently listed, is a Class 5 felony that carries up to 10 years in prison and up to a $2,500 fine.
The Virginia legislature has also taken up a number of other cannabis measures in recent weeks, including those that deal with cannabis product safety, inhalable products and expanding cultivation operations.
Late last month, the Senate approved legislation to decouple Virginia’s marijuana industry from the federal tax code. State medical and recreational cannabis businesses would be able to take deductions at the state level that they’re currently barred from doing federally under the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) code known as 280E.
Image element courtesy of Kristie Gianopulos.