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Gov. Glenn Youngkin smokes cannabis, minimum wage bills

Marijuana plants are shown.
Shaban Athuman
VPM News
A marijuana plant is seen in a grow room on Thursday, February 1, 2024 in Richmond, Virginia.

The vetoes come a day after the conclusion of a $2 billion arena deal Youngkin championed.

Gov. Glenn Youngkin signed 100 General Assembly bills and issued vetoes of Democrat priorities on Thursday.

The vetoes come a day after a $2 billion arena deal Youngkin pushed for in Alexandria concluded.

The Republican vetoed seven pieces of Democrat-led legislation, including bills that would have raised the minimum hourly wage and set up a retail cannabis market. He’d recently indicated during press appearances that the bills would be axed.

Cannabis marketplace

Three of the vetoes related to establishment of a retail cannabis market in Virginia, which currently permits personal consumption, possession and limited growing in the commonwealth — but not sales, bartering or other kinds of trade.

In a four-page veto statement on HB 698 and SB 448, Youngkin said legalizing a retail marijuana market would endanger the health and safety of Virginians.

“States following this path have seen adverse effects on children’s and adolescent’s health and safety, increased gang activity and violent crime, significant deterioration in mental health,” Youngkin said.

He did not specifically cite research indicating higher rates of gang activity and stated that there were 90,000 emergency room cases of cannabis-induced psychosis in 2021. The statement then connected psychosis (a series of symptoms, according to the National Institute of Mental Health) to schizophrenia (a mental health condition with diagnostic criteria), making a case for public safety issues being the result of recreational marijuana sales.

Del. Paul Krizek (D-Fairfax) and state Sen. Aaron Rouse (D-Virginia Beach) sponsored marijuana bills this session and released a joint statement, denouncing the governor’s decision.

“Governor Youngkin’s failure to act allows an already thriving illegal cannabis market to persist, fueling criminal activity and endangering our communities,” Krizek said. “This veto squandered a vital opportunity to safeguard Virginians and will only exacerbate the proliferation of illicit products, posing greater risks to our schools and public safety.”

Del. Krizek speaks
Shaban Athuman
VPM News
Del. Paul Krizek, D-Fairfax, presents HB 698, which would set up a retail market for marijuana, on Friday, February 9, 2024 in Richmond, Virginia. The legislation gives a head start to current pharmaceutical providers to start selling recreationally in July 2024, with the rest joining the market on January 1, 2025.

Youngkin laid out “the most concerning consequence of cannabis commercialization” in his statement, citing a 400% increase in calls to the U.S. Poison Control for children who overdosed on edible cannabis products.

In Virginia, minors’ exposure to edible cannabis rose following decriminalization — though it decreased in 2023.

The Blue Ridge Poison Center — one of three facilities covering the state — reported 20 calls between July 2020 and June 2021 connected to Delta-8, a synthetic THC product. During the same period the following year, it received 112 calls. Thirty-seven of those involved children younger than 18 years old.

Hourly wages, workers compensation

Youngkin also axed raising Virginia’s minimum hourly wage from $12 to $13.50 in 2025 and $15 by July 1, 2026. In his veto statement, Youngkin called the increase "arbitrary" and said the passage of a "wage mandate imperils market freedom and economic competitiveness."

“Contrary to ensuring higher compensation, such a substantial increase will raise business operational costs,” he wrote. “In response, businesses will raise prices, creating more inflation, and implement hiring freezes and layoffs, ultimately hurting the workers the proposal seeks to assist.”

Senate President Pro Tempore L. Louise Lucas, of Portsmouth, who carried that chamber’s minimum wage bill, issued a statement shortly after the veto came down.

"I am profoundly disappointed by Governor Youngkin's decision to veto legislation that represented a crucial step toward ensuring financial security for all Virginians,” Lucas wrote. “At a time when our Commonwealth faces the challenges of high costs, inflation, and widespread financial hardship, this veto is not just a missed opportunity—it's a direct affront to the hard-working individuals who keep Virginia moving forward.”

Lucas — who also chairs the Senate Finance committee and the chamber’s purse — was among the most vocal public critics of Youngkin’s arena project. She celebrated the deal’s demise on social media just a day earlier.

HB 974, carried by Del. Karen Keys-Gamarra, of Oakton, would have changed the burden of proof standards for certain kinds of workers compensation cases — specifically, “unexplained” falling while at work. Youngkin’s said the legislation would have created “a disproportionate imbalance in favor of one party” by expanding an employee’s options for providing evidence to include outside testimonies and circumstantial information.

As VPM News previously reported, Democrats maintain the slimmest majorities in the Virginia Senate (21/40 seats) and House of Delegates (51/100 seats). They cannot override any of Youngkin’s vetoes — which requires at least two-thirds of each chamber — without significant Republican support. The minimum wage and cannabis bills passed largely on party lines.

Incoming laws

Youngkin also signed 100 bills, according to his office. They included:

  • Identical bills that passed the House and Senate to address unemployment overpayment issues that have plagued the Virginia Employment Commission
  • Requirements for campaign finance forms to be filed electronically 
  • Requirements for higher education institutions to develop emergency plans and for schools to include how evacuation plans will account for mobility impairments 
  • Changes to DD waiver financial eligibility for people with developmental disabilities 
  • A House bill that would have expanded ballot access for people with disabilities. Youngkin did not sign an identical Senate version sponsored by state Sen. Suhas Subramanyam, who is currently running for Congress in the 10th District. 

“I hope and expect that the governor will sign the Senate version, too. It’s the same policy,” Subramanyam told VPM News. “To date, I haven’t heard about this legislation from the governor’s office. With that said, I am glad the House version got signed. It will help a lot of people with disabilities access the ballot.”
Thursday’s actions also featured the highest number of bills signed at once — and the lowest number of vetoes from the governor this session.

Updated: March 28, 2024 at 8:09 PM EDT
This article has been updated with more details about the governor's vetoes and bill signings.