Virginia lawmakers last week passed legislation that would finally license and regulate retail marijuana sales in the commonwealth—where use, possession and limited home cultivation of cannabis is already legal. The bill now heads to the desk of Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R).

Supporters have worked for years to adopt a framework for legal sales after the legislature passed a cannabis legalization law in 2021, but those efforts have repeatedly been halted by Republican lawmakers.

This year, however, the Senate’s new Democratic majority passed a retail sales bill that would see stores open in May 2025. Led by Sen. Aaron Rouse (D) in the Senate and Del. Paul Krizek (D) in the House, the plan is the product of months of bicameral negotiation and compromise.

In an interview with Marijuana Moment, Rouse said he’s proud of the work that’s already gone into passing a bill through the legislature, though he declined to speculate on how Youngkin would greet the bill.

“Once we’ve done our job,” the senator said, “then it’s up to the governor to do his.”

Rouse spoke to Marijuana Moment on Monday about what went into the compromise legislation and why he thinks its important for the commonwealth to regulate cannabis sales. The below transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.

Marijuana Moment: How did you get involved in this issue, which I know has been a pretty controversial one in the commonwealth? What makes it worthwhile to take up as a legislator?

Rouse: One of the things that I’m interested in is solving issues and confronting the really big issues of our society, and figuring out how do we bring solutions to the table. And so I’m keenly focused on the issues of our community, whether that’s public safety, whether it’s trying to find revenues for education, whether that’s trying to trying to provide resources for underserved and undervalued communities, whether it’s trying to find resources for law enforcement. I’m really interested in solving major issues in order to move our society ahead.

You just touched on a number of issues in the bill: law enforcement, public safety, funding for education and underserved communities. One thing I know your bill didn’t include at first was social equity in terms of prioritizing people with past cannabis convictions. What changed over the course of the past few weeks to get you interested in that as part of the compromise?

Listen, I think any time you have a huge bill such as this, the cannabis legislation, one of the key focuses and objectives is to get your bills moving so that they don’t die in committee. There’s strategy to this in terms of getting your bill to the floor and potentially and hopefully get your bill to the governor’s desk. As I stated prior to carrying this legislation and in committees, I wouldn’t assign my name to anything that didn’t have social equity in it. I publicly stated that and I reinforced that messaging by the final version of this bill.

While I won’t go into strategy, as you can see, this bill has a broad coalition of support, and I was proud to work with members from both sides of the aisle, as well as industry leaders and grassroots leaders to get this final version of the bill to the governor’s desk.

This is sort of inside baseball, but at one point last month it seemed like you all had hammered out a compromise, but then the next day, a Senate committee kind of departed from that agreement. That led to a few late floor amendments to get the bills back into alignment. I know you said you didn’t want to get too much into strategy, but are you able to say what happened there?

Well, I think it’s always a compromise before you actually get a vote on the bill. You’re always working the issue, you’re always trying to refine the bill and ensuring that it gets the most support possible before it reaches the floor for a vote.

You know, one of the things that I’m very proud of is that my bill was the vehicle that we used to get to the governor’s desk, and one of the major issues just starting off from the very beginning is that we weren’t going to allow major pharmaceutical companies or medical companies to to get so far ahead small businesses and the potential small business owners that that equity part would be watered down. And we wanted to be keenly intent on making sure that big pharma did not monopolize the industry before future stakeholders have an opportunity to partake in this new market.

A lot of people are turning their attention now to what Gov. Youngkin is going to do with the legislation. When was the last time your office, or someone as part of this team, reached out to the governor? What was the response?

I think it’s important to continually reiterated that we have a balance of power here—we’re in the legislative part of our government, the governor’s the executive part of it—and so what I have instructed my team on and my staff on is to be concerned with the legislation, developing legislation that we can get to the governor’s desk.

We’re less concerned about what the governor will or won’t sign. We’re hopeful that he signs the bill, but that’s not part of our job. Our job is to work with our colleagues across the aisle, both in the upper chamber in the lower chamber, to craft a piece of legislation to get to his desk. And once we’ve done our job, then it’s up to the governor to do his. I think we always have to focus on what our responsibility is, what our focus is, what our priorities are. And again, what our responsibility is, on this side of the balance of power, if you will, is to craft legislation to get to the governor’s desk, and that’s what we did.

One option the governor has is to send the bill back with amendments, possibly changing things that you’ve spent so much time working on. Is that something you’d be open to? Are there any issues you wouldn’t budge on?

Well, I think it’s important we don’t get ahead of ourselves. We don’t know what forms of amendments he would possibly send back. You know, that’s the part about negotiation and compromise, you leave that door open. And once we get to that bridge, we’ll see if we have to cross it.

You talked about building support for a bill that could actually make it to the governor’s desk. I know at times supporters told me that they were hoping or even expecting more Republican votes. How important is it to have bipartisan support for the bill, especially now that it’s gone to the governor? What did you do to try to build support across the aisle?

I think it’s very important for any piece of legislation to have bipartisan support, it shows that they’re able to work across the aisle, be able to build a consensus. And so, from my end, it took incredible amount of work, an incredible amount of patience and understanding and conversation and communication. But also, it took an incredible amount of compromise in terms of trying to implement pieces of legislation that were very, very important to our Republican colleagues as well as those grassroots organizations and industry leaders.

They say a good compromise is where no one is happy but everyone is satisfied. And so I’m proud of the broad coalition that we had to get this bill crafted. It’s an incredible amount of work that goes into developing such a monumental piece of legislation such as cannabis adult retail market.

One thing to know is that this bill does not legalize cannabis—marijuana—through through our commonwealth. What it does is it attempts to regulate cannabis, ensuring that safe products are in that commonwealth. And hopefully it really goes to driving down the illicit market.

If this bill were vetoed and you had to do this again next year, would you? If so, would you do anything differently?

As long as I’m a state senator here, I work for people of our commonwealth who have been pushing for this legislation for over three years—for those who want to start a business, for those who want to create generational wealth as well for those who are saying, ‘Hey, it’s time that we have an adult use retail market for cannabis.’

As long as the people still want this market to be set up in a safe manner, to where we can regulate it, we can make it clear for our law enforcement to enforce these laws, we can make it safe for our communities and we also can make sure we bring in million dollars of revenue to go towards our priorities such as education, affordable housing, as well as shoring up voting rights and making sure that you know our transportation needs are met. So long as there’s an effort and a call for a cannabis market, we go to work. I work for the people.

And the last word is to you. Is there anything else you would like to add?

If I haven’t said it already, I am proud of the work that we’ve done to get this cannabis bill to the governor’s desk. Again, it’s a great, broad partnership of folks from the industry, from the grassroots organizations. We worked together to craft this piece of legislation to get it to the governor session, so if I haven’t already made it clear, I was happy to lead the way, but this is not possible without a team of folks who had an active role in this process.

Federal Agency Says There’s ‘Little Research’ Supporting Marijuana Driving Impairment Tests Based On THC Concentration

Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.

Marijuana Moment is made possible with support from readers. If you rely on our cannabis advocacy journalism to stay informed, please consider a monthly Patreon pledge.

 Virginia lawmakers last week passed legislation that would finally license and regulate retail marijuana sales in the commonwealth—where use, possession and limited home cultivation of cannabis is already legal. The bill now heads to the desk of Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R). Supporters have worked for years to adopt a framework for legal sales after the  Read More