Advocates raise alarm about effort in Virginia to cut marijuana social equity fund

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Minority-business advocates are concerned about a Republican-led bill in Virginia that would eliminate social equity funding for the state’s adult-use marijuana program.

Senate Bill 107, filed by state Sen. Thomas Norment Jr., would delete the line in last year’s adult-use legalization law that calls for 30% of the revenue to be funneled into a cannabis equity investment fund.

It’s uncertain whether the measure has a chance of passing in the Senate, where Democrats hold a narrow majority of 21-19.

But social equity advocates say the bill demonstrates an effort to dismantle provisions in the legalization bill, against the wishes of the public.

The legislation emphasized licensing opportunities for small and minority-owned local businesses.

“Having funding is essential to the success of an equity program, and eliminating that funding (would be) a slap in the face to those who have worked so hard to ensure Virginia has a healthy and equitable cannabis market,” Paul McLean, executive director of the Virginia Minority Cannabis Coalition, wrote in a statement emailed to MJBizDaily on Monday.

“We know that our elected officials can do better, and Virginians must demand they do what is fair for their constituents,” he added.

Virginia’s recreational marijuana market isn’t scheduled to launch until 2024, and last year’s act requires the General Assembly to reenact a number of regulatory and licensing details including equity provisions.

In addition to the Senate bill, the lukewarm attitude about legalization displayed by the state’s governor-elect, Republican Glenn Youngkin, also is in play.

Youngkin, who raised concerns in his campaign about teaching race issues in schools, has indicated unease about labor, equity and other provisions  in Virginia’s adult-use legalization act.

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McLean noted that the Virginia Minority Cannabis Coalition is running boot camps to help train and provide networking opportunities for potential minority entrepreneurs who suffer from “systemic lack of funding opportunities.”

MJBizDaily projects the Virginia adult-use market could reach nearly $1.5 billion in annual sales by the program’s fifth year.

Jeff Smith can be reached at jeff.smith@mjbizdaily.com.