Virginia Governor Vetoes Bill to Legalize Cannabis Sales, Drawing Criticism

Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin has vetoed a bill aimed at legalizing recreational marijuana sales, citing concerns about health and safety. Despite the legalization of small-scale marijuana possession three years ago, Virginians lack legal avenues to purchase cannabis. The veto applies to identical bills, SB 448 in the Senate and HB 698 in the House of Delegates, which sought to establish a regulated cannabis market in the state, including provisions for licensing retailers.

Governor Youngkin’s veto comes amid efforts to advance negotiations for a $2 billion sports complex in northern Virginia, a plan he supports. Democrats had hoped to leverage the marijuana legalization bill as a bargaining chip for this initiative. However, with the exclusion of funding for the proposal from the state’s final budget, the stage was set for Youngkin’s veto.

The veto has drawn sharp criticism from Democratic lawmakers, who argue that it will only bolster the illicit cannabis market, fueling criminal activity and endangering communities. Delegate Paul Krizek, the bill’s lead sponsor in the House of Delegates, emphasized that Youngkin’s inaction perpetuates the thriving illegal cannabis trade, posing risks to public safety.

Similarly, Democratic Senator Aaron R. Rouse, sponsor of the Senate version, condemned Youngkin’s refusal to approve the legislation, characterizing it as a missed opportunity to advance public health, safety, and justice in Virginia.

In addition to vetoing the cannabis sales bill, Governor Youngkin also nixed a cannabis sentence modification bill (SB 696). This bill, aimed at reevaluating the sentences of individuals charged under outdated cannabis laws, faced criticism from advocacy groups like the Last Prisoner Project. The organization’s policy manager, Adrian Rocha, denounced the veto, highlighting the continued injustice faced by those incarcerated for offenses that are no longer illegal.

Despite the governor’s veto, Democrats have the opportunity to override it when the legislature reconvenes on April 17 to reconsider bills vetoed or amended by Youngkin.


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