County discusses possible marijuana vote

The Louisa County Board of Supervisors may ask voters to decide in a referendum next year if they want to ban the sale of marijuana in retail stores.

A new state law allows possession of a small amount of marijuana, but leaves it up to voters whether the drug should be legal to sell. If the supervisors do not call for a referendum, retail sales would be permitted in the county starting on Jan. 1, 2024. 

The state plans to issue licenses for 400 retail stores, 450 cultivation facilities and 60 manufacturing facilities across the Commonwealth, according to Helen Phillips, Louisa County attorney.

While opinions differ whether it is appropriate to allow marijuana sales, there is a potential economic benefit to the county. The state will impose a 20 percent tax on retail sales, and the county can impose an additional three percent tax.

Only people 21 and older would be allowed to buy marijuana, if sales are legalized in the county. No use of the drug will be permitted in stores.

The Virginia General Assembly approved setting up a future commercial market for marijuana during its regular session in February. Afterwards, Governor Ralph Northam said he wanted to see possession of an ounce or less of the drug to be legal by July 1 of this year. Legislators went on to approve legalization via an amendment during their special session in early April.

If a person is charged with possessing between an ounce and a pound of marijuana, they will be liable for a $25 civil fine. Having more than a pound will be a felony with a potential jail sentence and up to a $250,000 fine.  

“Either it’s good or it’s bad,” commented Supervisor Toni Williams (Jackson District). “This makes it look like it’s only bad if you have a lot.”

The amended law also allows people 21 or older to cultivate up to four marijuana plants in their homes. The plants cannot be visible from the public way and must have tags with the owner’s name and driver’s license or personal identification number and a note that the plants are for personal use. 

Sharing up to an ounce of marijuana will be allowed.

People will not be permitted to consume marijuana in public or while operating a motor vehicle. They can transport the legal amount of the drug in their motor vehicles, but it has to be in a closed container, similar to how alcohol is regulated. One potential gray area in the law is how an open container of marijuana will be defined by law enforcement if officers see it during a traffic stop. Advocates of legalization are encouraging people to keep their marijuana in the car trunk.

“The General Assembly intends to revisit this in the next session, since there will be some questions,” Phillips said.

The supervisors will have to decide by the summer of 2022 if they want to put the issue of retail marijuana sales on the ballot that November.

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