RICHMOND, Va. (Dec. 8, 2023) – Yesterday, the Virginia Senate passed a bill that would create a tax and regulatory structure for adult-use retail marijuana sales despite ongoing federal cannabis prohibition.
Sen. Sam Ebbin (D) introduced Senate Bill 1133 (SB1133) on Jan. 10. The legislation would establish a framework for the creation of a retail marijuana market in Virginia administered by the Virginia Cannabis Control Authority. Under the proposed law, retail marijuana sales would begin on Jan. 1, 2024, despite the fact that this is illegal under current federal law.
The legislation also includes provisions to facilitate the resentencing of people currently incarcerated for cannabis convictions.
EFFECT ON FEDERAL PROHIBITION
Virginia legalized marijuana for adult use in 2021. The passage of SB1133 would take the next step and establish a viable regulatory structure for retail sales.
According to the federal government, this is all illegal.
Virginia established a viable medical marijuana program in 2020 and also decriminalized marijuana possession despite ongoing federal prohibition.
Under the federal Controlled Substances Act (CSA) passed in 1970, the federal government maintains complete prohibition of marijuana. Of course, the federal government lacks any constitutional authority to ban or regulate cannabis within the borders of a state, despite the opinion of the politically connected lawyers on the Supreme Court. If you doubt this, ask yourself why it took a constitutional amendment to institute federal alcohol prohibition.
The legalization of marijuana for personal use in Virginia took the next step and removed another layer of laws prohibiting the possession and use of marijuana in the state even though federal prohibition will remain in effect. This is significant because FBI statistics show that law enforcement makes approximately 99 of 100 marijuana arrests under state, not federal law. When states stop enforcing marijuana laws, they sweep away most of the basis for 99 percent of marijuana arrests.
Furthermore, figures indicate it would take 40 percent of the DEA’s yearly budget just to investigate and raid all of the dispensaries in Los Angeles – a single city in a single state. That doesn’t include the cost of prosecution. The lesson? The feds lack the resources to enforce marijuana prohibition without state assistance.
A GROWING MOVEMENT
Colorado, Washington state, Oregon and Alaska were the first states to legalize recreational cannabis, and California, Nevada, Maine and Massachusetts joined them after ballot initiatives in favor of legalization passed in November 2016. Michigan followed suit when voters legalized cannabis for general use in 2018. Vermont became the first state to legalize marijuana through a legislative act in 2018. Illinois followed suit in 2019. New Jersey, Montana and Arizona all legalized recreational marijuana through ballot measures in the 2020 election. In 2021, New York, New Mexico, Virginia and Connecticut legalized marijuana through legislative action, and Rhode Island legalized cannabis for adult use in 2022. With Missouri and Maryland legalizing marijuana in November, there are now 37 states allowing cannabis for medical use, and 21 legalizing for adult recreational use.
The lesson here is pretty straightforward. As Tenth Amendment Center Executive Director Michael Boldin noted, “When enough people say, ‘No!’ to the federal government, and enough states pass laws backing those people up, there’s not much the feds can do to shove their so-called laws, regulations, or mandates down our throats.”
SB1133 will move to the House for further consideration. Once it receives a committee assignment, it must get a hearing and pass the committee by a majority vote before moving forward in the legislative process.
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