Gov. Ralph Northam on Monday announced appointments to three newly-created boards charged with overseeing the future of recreational cannabis in Virginia in the wake of legalization earlier this month.
On July 1, the commonwealth authorized the possession and home cultivation of pot for adult Virginians following the passage of sweeping new cannabis laws by the General Assembly last spring.
Recreational sales are slated to begin at the start of 2024. Until then, authorities are scrambling to build a regulatory infrastructure from scratch, an ambitious task that is all but certain to hit some snags along the way.
Under the new law, Northam gets to appoint all five board members of the Cannabis Control Authority (CCA), the agency tasked with creating a new cannabis marketplace, regulating sales, transportation, and distribution for pot products.
To chair CCA’s board, Northam picked Neil Amin, a 41-year-old hotel magnate with powerful ties to the region’s business community. Amin is the CEO of Shamin Hotels, one of the largest family-run hotel chains in the country, spanning more than 60 properties nationwide, including 38 in the region alone.
An alum of Goldman Sachs, he is widely seen as one of Virginia’s most influential business leaders, sitting on the boards of several powerful economic development agencies. Amin currently serves as director of the Virginia’s Treasury Board and Vice Chairman of the Small Business Financing Authority.
Northam’s other picks include a trial lawyer, an expert on agriculture, a former food industry executive, and an advocate for business development. Board members are banned from having financial interests in the cannabis industry. A full list of appointments can be found on the governor’s website.
“Virginia is committed to legalizing cannabis the right way—by learning from other states, by listening to public health and safety experts, and by centering social equity,” Northam said in a statement. “There is a tremendous amount of work ahead to establish an adult-use marijuana market in our Commonwealth, and I am proud to appoint these talented Virginians who will bring diverse backgrounds, an incredible depth of expertise, and a shared commitment to public service to this important effort.”
The governor also announced picks for two less powerful boards on Monday: The Cannabis Equity Reinvestment Board (CERB) and Cannabis Public Health Advisory Board (CPHA).
CERB’s main purpose is to redistribute funds generated by a 30% sales tax on cannabis towards resources for communities historically harmed by punitive drug laws. The money will go to grants for workforce development, reentry programs, and scholarships for marginalized students. The 13-member board will primarily be composed of leaders from community-based organizations.
Northam picked five CERB members on Monday. The eight remaining positions will be appointed by the state legislature, with seats reserved for a returning citizen, a veteran, a leader at a Black university, an entrepreneur, and an expert on public health. More info on CERB is available on Virginia’s State Law Portal.
“The Cannabis Equity Reinvestment Board will serve as an important voice for Virginians and help elevate resources to the persons, communities, and families most negatively impacted by the disparate enforcement of marijuana laws and ensure that equity remains at the forefront of legalization in Virginia,” said Janice Underwood, who will chair the board as Northam’s Chief Diversity Officer.
CPHA, meanwhile, will be tasked with keeping an eye on public health issues tied to legalization, while advising CCA on product safety, labeling, and public messaging. Any health-related decisions will need approval from the council’s 21-member board before being enacted.
One of Northam’s four picks for CPHA’s board is Ngiste Abebe, Vice President of Public Policy at Columbia Care, a New York-based cannabis business that owns CBD-processing licenses in the commonwealth and runs several dispensaries in neighboring D.C. and Maryland. The state legislature will appoint another ten members, while seven will be ex-officio.
“The Cannabis Public Health Advisory Council will ensure that health experts have a seat at the table as Virginia establishes a legal cannabis market,” said Daniel Carey, who will chair the Council as Virginia’s Secretary of Health and Human Resources. “I am pleased to serve alongside these dedicated and knowledgeable council members.”