Virginia officials talked with other states about legalizing adult-use marijuana

Posted at 8:44 PM, Dec 08, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-08 22:21:18-05

NORFOLK, Va. - Virginia Governor Ralph Northam is heading into the new year supporting legalizing adult-use marijuana in the state.

Last month, Northam released a reportdetailing the impact of marijuana legalization in Virginia.

According to state officials, the Virginia Marijuana Work Group worked closely with government officials from states, including Illinois and Washington.

Virginia Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry Bettina Ring said the Commonwealth has had fiscal, structural and equity conversations with other states.

A spokesperson for the state of Illinois told News 3 Gov. J.B. Pritzker's administration has had conversations with Northam’s team. Some of the conversations have focused on detailing Illinois’ equity-centric cannabis legalization law, establishing a regulatory association and general data sharing.

Rick Garza, Director of the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board, said people with his agency also talked with Virginia officials about legalization.

“How did you set up your system? How's it organized?” Garza said regarding the conversations. “We have licensing staff, we have enforcement staff, we have staff in finance that collects the taxes and fee - how were those systems set up? What's the proper rate of taxation?”

Washington was of the first to legalize adult-use cannabis in 2012, and retail stores opened in 2014.

“One of the things that Virginia will have is the ability to look at what the other states did. What's the playbook?” he said. “We didn't have one in Colorado and Washington.”

Garza said the move to legalize adult-use marijuana in Washington has been a money maker for the state.

“It has brought in over $1 billion in revenue to the state,” Garza said. “Half of the funds generated fund our state Medicare program, so they actually provide healthcare for low-income [people] and people who need assistance with healthcare. Some of it goes to our universities for research. A big chunk of it goes to the Department of Health to fund prevention programs and messages to deter youth use of cannabis.”

He said there have been challenges for businesses when it comes to banking.

“We were fortunate in Washington to get our state credit unions and state banks to bank this industry,” he said. “When you think about going from an illicit industry to a legal industry, you've got to have an ability to track the money. Banking allows that to happen.”

Garza added they also continue to work with law enforcement and public health officials to understand and address any impacts related to cannabis.

He said one tip for Virginia on legalization is everyone involved being at the table.

“It's important that you take the time to set up the system correctly, making sure that everyone has had an opportunity to provide input to the state as far as its citizens, and the groups that care about this,” Garza said.