Youngkin won’t commit to legalizing retail cannabis while in office
The sole remaining General Assembly bill to establish sales regulations by 2024 died Tuesday.
Gov. Glenn Youngkin said on Thursday it’s up to lawmakers to resolve an impasse over recreational cannabis sales and declined to say whether he’d ever sign legislation related to the issue during his tenure.
His comments come after the administration spoke out against the sole surviving bill to legalize cannabis sales for adults age 21 and over, which failed in a Republican-controlled House subcommittee on Tuesday.
Speaking to reporters after an event at Richmond’s Westwood Fountain on Thursday, the Republican said his priority remained cracking down on intoxicating hemp products like Delta-8. He said it was up to lawmakers to come up with a plan for a legal cannabis market.
“I don't write legislation for them; they've got to sort this out,” Youngkin said. “I have said over and over again, I think that creating a market for cannabis is very complicated. There's other states that have struggled, and they've got to go do the work. And I've looked at them for sending me bills.”
In 2021, then-Gov. Ralph Northam signed legislation allowing adults to possess small amounts of marijuana or grow up to four plants. The bill set out a timeline of retail sales beginning in 2024 — but only if lawmakers approved it again in 2022. In the meantime, Republicans flipped control of the House of Delegates and executive mansion in the 2021 elections and subsequently blocked legislation aimed at creating a retail cannabis market.
Sixty percent of Virginians polled by Christopher Newport University last month said they support creating a legal recreational weed market.
Speaker of the House Todd Gilbert (R–Shenandoah) told reporters last month that his caucus was looking to the governor for guidance on the topic since Youngkin would ultimately have to sign any legislation.
On Tuesday, a House of Delegates subcommittee quashed the last remaining bill that would have legalized recreational cannabis sales, from Sen. Adam Ebbin (D–Alexandria). Parker Slaybaugh, Youngkin’s chief deputy secretary of agriculture and gorestry, urged lawmakers to vote down the legislation because it combined regulations of the recreational cannabis market with tighter controls on intoxicating hemp products.
Slaybaugh said Youngkin didn’t have a position on parts of the bill focused on retail sales, but wanted to sign a bill narrowly focused on products like Delta-8.
The same GOP-led subcommittee killed bills from Republican lawmakers last month in party-line votes, including a proposal that would have asked Virginia’s Cannabis Control Authority to study creating a market.
JM Pedini, director of the marijuana advocacy group Virginia NORML, said in a statement that Youngkin’s inaction on the issue was the main impediment to legalizing retail cannabis sales.
“Virginia has already done the work, not only in carefully examining over two decades of real-world experience from other states, but also by successfully regulating medical cannabis right here at home,” Pedini said, referring to several state reports on the issue. “There’s no reinventing the wheel here, Virginia already knows how to regulate cannabis.”
Virginia’s medical dispensaries are open to patients who get a prescription from their medical provider. Four companies hold regional monopolies on medical sales, and Ebbin’s bill would have allowed them to begin selling to all adults 21 and older beginning July 1.
On Thursday, a Republican-led House subcommittee set aside a separate bill from Ebbin aimed at doubling the number of medical operators. Instead, the committee recommended asking the state's Cannabis Control Authority to study the issue.
House Republicans have also proposed slashing CCA’s budget by about two-thirds over the next two years. That budget’s architect, Del. Barry Knight (R–Virginia Beach), told WRIC the money was unnecessary “if we are not expanding this issue.”
This story is powered by the 2023 People's Agenda.