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April 20, 2021

Supervisors to study Va.’s new marijuana law

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Most commercial marijuana growing takes place in buildings “more like data centers,” County Attorney Tracy Gallehr told the planning commission.
The people that are involved in this are very technologically-advanced, security-advanced and agriculturally-advanced. Gone are the days of growing weed in the Shenandoah hills.
— Planning commission member Diane Roteman
By .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
Staff Journalist
The Fauquier planning commissioner believes the county should move quickly to learn as much as it can about the state’s new marijuana law.

That process formally will begin with a May 13 county board of supervisors’ work session on the subject, County Attorney Tracy Gallehr told the planning commission last Thursday.

“At the risk of a pun, it’s probably high time that we get ahead of this thing,” Planning Commissioner Bob Lee (Marshall District) said.

Besides allowing legal possession of up to one ounce of marijuana for individuals 21 and older, effective July 1, the bill that the Virginia General Assembly approved earlier this month addresses retail sales, cultivation and production of the crop.

The law makes Virginia the first state in the South and the 16th in the country to legalize marijuana.

Retail sales won’t begin until Jan. 1, 2024, according to the legislation.

“This is a few years off, as they start to establish the regulatory scheme for both the growing facilities and retail facilities, which the state has not yet 100 percent set up identical to liquor stores,” Mrs. Gallehr said.

Unlike state-maintained liquor stores, marijuana retail outlets would be privately owned, the county attorney said.

During the work session, Mrs. Gallehr and Fauquier Zoning Administrator Amy Rodgers will provide the supervisors an “outline” of the new law and research on how experienced states such as California and Colorado regulate the marijuana industry, Mrs. Gallehr said.

Because of security requirements and anticipated regulations, “the growing facilities aren’t just going to be just fields of marijuana,” the county attorney said. “They’re probably going to be more like data centers, where they’re very large indoor grow structures.

“That way they can secure the crop. And, they would be fairly high utilizers of both electric and water.”

Mrs. Gallehr said she didn’t know how “by-right” or “right-to-farm” laws might apply to marijuana cultivation and production.

“I don’t know how far that goes in these types of facilities,” said the county attorney, stressing that she and other staff members continue to review and understand the new 283-page law.

Mrs. Gallehr described Virginia’s marijuana industry as “fast-evolving” and the state legislators’ adoption of the new law as “last-minute” and a “little bit unexpected.”

“So we’re all just trying to learn and get up to speed at the same time,” she told the planners.

Planning Commission member Diane Roteman (Center District) called marijuana cultivation “very high-tech” farming.

“The people that are involved in this are very technologically advanced, security advanced and agriculturally advanced,” Ms. Roteman said. “Gone are the days of growing weed in the Shenandoah hills.”

Mrs. Gallehr said the new marijuana law came up at the board of supervisors’ “working lunch” during its regular monthly meeting on April 8.

While the new law gives local governments the option to let voters decide by referendum whether to prohibit retail sales, the board “is not inclined to go in that direction,” she told the planning commission.

But the supervisors “were kind of leaning” toward imposing a 3-percent tax on retail marijuana sales, which state law will allow, Mrs. Gallehr said.

She hopes the supervisors’ May 13 work session will provide specific guidance to the staff.

The law limits the number of licenses Virginia will issue for the cultivation, sale and manufacture of marijuana:

• Cultivation facilities, 450.

• Retail stores, 400.

• Manufacturing facilities, 60.

• Wholesalers, 25.

Mrs. Gallehr spoke of the marijuana market as a potential economic development opportunity.

“Perhaps by being at the cusp of having zoning regulations in place, it could be an economic development initiative for the county,” she told the planning commission. “So, we’re going to try to be at the front of it, so that should there be facilities looking at where they want to locate . . . maybe it gives Fauquier County an advantage to get some of that revenue.”

Contact Don Del Rosso at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) or 540-270-0300.
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