Virginia Governor Says Anyone Who Thinks He’ll Sign A Marijuana Sales Bill ‘Must Be Smoking Something’ - Read of Green
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Virginia Governor Says Anyone Who Thinks He’ll Sign A Marijuana Sales Bill ‘Must Be Smoking Something’

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Source: Marijuana Moment

With a bill sitting on his desk that would legalize the retail sale of marijuana in Virginia, Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) said recently that people “must be smoking something” if they think he’s going to sign it into law.

It’s the latest and clearest comment from the governor on where he stands on the legal sales proposal, which supportive lawmakers have spent months working to craft and pass through the legislature.

The legislation, SB 448 in the Senate and HB 698 in the House, was formally transmitted to Youngkin’s desk on March 11, and he has through April 8 to act it. His options are to sign it into law, veto it, allow it to become law without his signature or return it to lawmakers with suggested amendments.

While Youngkin has not committed to vetoing the bill, he didn’t mince words about the chances of it winning his signature.

“I don’t plan on signing that bill,” he told local CBS affiliate WTKR at an event in Cheseapeake last week. “I had somebody ask me the other day, ‘Are you going to sign the legislation?’ and I’ve been talking about this for 60 days and I said, ‘Anybody who thinks I’m going to sign that legislation must be smoking something.’”

House Speaker Don Scott (D), who supports the legislation, added that the governor “has not signed that bill, and I don’t anticipate he would.”

 

For months, Democrats working to pass legal sales legislation have said they’ve received little or no response from Youngkin’s office despite efforts to reach out and see what the governor might be open to.

Meanwhile, representatives for the governor have been referring to the same comments he made following his State of the Commonwealth speech in January, in which he said he didn’t “have any interest in” signing the Democratic-led bills.

As far back as October, Sen. Adam Ebbin (D), who was then working to draft a legal sales bill, told Marijuana Moment that Youngkin “has been a challenge to deal with because he hasn’t been forthcoming with his views on what he’s willing to support.”

“I’m not sure what the governor will sign, since he’s been kind of cagey and not really supportive in his public statements,” Ebbin said at the time.

Lawmakers in support of the sales bill now believe a veto is likely, though the governor has stopped short of pledging to block the bill outright. If he does, there currently aren’t enough votes in the legislature to overcome a veto.

Asked about the governor’s stance earlier this month, Del. Paul Krizek (D), the legislation’s sponsor in the House, told Marijuana Moment that “it seems pretty clear that he is not a fan of a legally regulated retail market.”

“He even said something to the effect that that he would not want a cannabis store on every street corner,” Krizek added—a hypothetical the lawmaker said was “not at all accurate and the opposite of what our bill would allow.”

And Sen. Creigh Deeds (D) has told local media: “We were advised that the governor wasn’t going to sign the [cannabis market] bill under any circumstance.”

Use, possession and limited cultivation of cannabis by adults is already legal in Virginia, the result of a Democrat-led proposal approved by lawmakers in 2021. But Republicans, after winning control of the House and governor’s office later that year, subsequently blocked the required reenactment of a regulatory framework for retail sales. Since then, illicit stores have sprung up to meet consumer demand.

Though Democrats retook control of both legislative chambers in last November’s elections, the governor is still an obstacle.

Cannabis is “an area that I really don’t have any interest in,” Youngkin said back in January. “What I want us to work on are areas that we can find a meeting of the mind and press forward for the betterment of Virginia.”

Already the governor has vetoed one of the several marijuana-related measures passed by lawmakers this session, standing in the way of a bipartisan measure that would have protected the parental rights of lawful marijuana users.

Though that proposal repeatedly passed the Senate on unanimous or near-unanimous votes, Youngkin’s veto message criticized it for “aiming to address a non-existent problem”—a claim advocates have said is untrue.

At one point earlier this session, it appeared the retail cannabis bill could become part of a grand deal between Youngkin and legislative Democrats. In December, Senate President Pro Tempore Louise Lucas (D) alluded to a compromise involving a sports stadium project the governor supported. But that deal never materialized and Democrats left the governor’s proposed area plan out of budget legislation.

Here’s what the retail sales legislation would do if it becomes law:

  • Retail sales could begin as of May 1, 2025.
  • Adults would be able to purchase up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana in a single transaction, or up to an equivalent amount of other cannabis products as determined by regulators.
  • A state tax of 11.625 percent would apply to the retail sale of any cannabis product. Of that, 8 percent would go to the state, local governments would get 2.5 percent and 1.125 percent would fund schools.
  • The Virginia Cannabis Control Authority would oversee licensing and regulation of the new industry. Its board of directors would have the authority to control possession, sale, transportation, distribution, delivery and testing of marijuana.
  • Local governments could ban marijuana establishments, but only if voters first approve an opt-out referendum.
  • Locations of retail outlets could not be within 1,000 feet of another marijuana retailer.
  • Cultivators would be regulated by space devoted to marijuana cultivation, known as canopy size. Both indoor and outdoor marijuana cultivation would be allowed, though only growers in lower tiers—with lower limits on canopy size—could grow plants outside. Larger growers would need to cultivate plants indoors. Secure greenhouses would qualify as indoor cultivation.
  • Only direct, face-to-face transactions would be permitted. The legislation would prohibit the use of other avenues, such as vending machines, drive-through windows, internet-based sales platforms and delivery services.
  • Existing medical marijuana providers that enter the adult-use market could apply to open up to five additional retail establishments, which would need to be colocated at their existing licensed facilities.
  • Serving sizes would be capped at 10 milligrams THC, with no more than 100 mg THC per package.
  • No person could be granted or hold an interest in more than five total licenses, not including transporter licenses.
  • People with convictions for felonies or crimes involving moral turpitude within the past seven years would be ineligible to apply for licensing, as would employees of police or sheriff’s departments if they’re responsible for enforcement of the penal, traffic or motor vehicle laws of the commonwealth.
  • An equity-focused microbusiness program would grant licenses to entities at least two-thirds owned and directly controlled by eligible applicants, which include people with past cannabis misdemeanors, family members of people with past convictions, military veterans, individuals who’ve lived at least three of the past five years in a “historically economically disadvantaged community,” people who’ve attended schools in those areas and individuals who received a federal Pell grant or attended a college or university where at least 30 percent of students are eligible for Pell grants.
  • “Historically economically disadvantaged community” is an area that has recorded marijuana possession offenses at or above 150 percent of the statewide average between 2009 and 2019.
  • Tax revenue from the program would first cover the costs of administering and enforcing the state’s cannabis system. After that, 60 percent of remaining funds would go toward supporting the state’s Cannabis Equity Reinvestment Fund, 25 percent would fund substance use disorder treatment and prevention, 10 percent would go to pre-K programs for at-risk children and 5 percent would fund a public health and awareness campaign.
  • Adults could also share up to 2.5 ounces with other adults without financial remuneration, though gray-market “gifting” of marijuana as part of another transaction would be punishable as a Class 2 misdemeanor and a Class 1 misdemeanor on second and subsequent offenses.
  • A number of other new criminal penalties would be created. Knowingly selling or giving marijuana or marijuana paraphernalia to someone under 21, for example, would be a Class 1 misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year in jail and a maximum $2,500 fine, as would knowingly selling cannabis to someone reasonably believed to be intoxicated. It would also be a Class 1 misdemeanor to advertise the sale of marijuana paraphernalia to people under 21.
  • Knowingly obtaining marijuana on behalf of someone under 21 would be a Class 1 misdemeanor.
  • People under 21 who possess or use marijuana, or attempt to obtain it, would be subject to a civil penalty of no more than $25 and ordered to enter a substance use disorder treatment and/or education program.
  • Illegal cultivation or manufacture of marijuana, not including legal homegrow, would be a Class 6 felony, punishable by up to five years imprisonment and a $2,500 fine.
  • People could process homegrown marijuana into products such as edibles, but butane extraction or the use of other volatile solvents would be punishable as a Class 1 misdemeanor.

Other cannabis-related bills before the governor include a proposal to resentence people serving time for past cannabis offenses and protect public-sector workers from employment discrimination based on lawful medical marijuana use.

A sales bill did advance through the Democratic-controlled Senate last session, but it stalled in committee in the House, which at the time had a GOP majority.

Bipartisan Majorities Want Congress To Pass Bill Protecting States’ Rights To Legalize Marijuana, Poll Of Voters In Three States Finds

Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.

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