Disagreements Threaten Virginia Marijuana Legalization Deal As Deadline Approaches

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Conference committee members are divided over a proposed delay in regulatory decisions until next session, but have reportedly settled on delaying legalization of cannabis possession in any case. By Ned Oliver, Virginia Mercury With a Saturday deadline approaching, state lawmakers in the House and Senate are still working to resolve differences over landmark legislation that would legalize recreational marijuana in Virginia. As of Thursday evening, it was unclear whether the two chambers would be able to reach an agreement on the bill, which Gov. Ralph Northam (D) has made a priority in his final year in office. At least one lawmaker privately doubted the legislation would pass. Others, however, remained optimistic even as they acknowledged negotiations had grown tense, suggesting a vote was possible as early as Friday. According to five sources familiar with the talks, the primary point of contention is language sought by the Senate that would delay decisions about how the new market is regulated until next year. Members of the chamber said during hearings last month they felt the legislation was too expansive and complex to complete work on during the 45-day session. Lawmakers in the House have resisted, arguing the delay is unnecessary, citing in-depth studies conducted by legislative analysts and Northam’s administration. House lawmakers have also expressed discomfort about voting to legalize the drug without finalizing plans for a legal marketplace, according to the sources, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss ongoing negotiations. If a bill does emerge from the conference negotiations, it’s likely to disappoint civil rights advocates who have been pushing for an immediate end to criminal penalties related to the drug. Both the House and Senate passed legalization bills that wouldn’t allow sales of recreational marijuana to begin until January 1, 2024—time both sides agree they need to…

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