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The Commonwealth cannot find common ground on cannabis. In the latest in another volley in the back and forth between the Virginia Legislature and governor’s office, Gov. Glenn Youngkin recently vetoed a bill that would have permitted, taxed, and regulated the sale of adult-use cannabis. Gov. Youngkin defended the decision by arguing that marijuana sales would pose a public health and safety risk to Virginians.

Our friends at Law360 note that:

The veto comes as Virginia enters its fourth consecutive year of legal cannabis limbo. The state under Democratic control legalized the drug for personal use and possession in 2021, but after Republicans won the Virginia House of Delegates and the governorship that November, lawmakers failed to implement a regulated market.

So, what’s the problem? Gov. Youngkin publicly stated that he was against adult-use cannabis because of the perceived adverse impacts on “adolescent’s health and safety, increased gang activity and violent crime, significant deterioration in mental health, decreased road safety, and significant costs associated with retail marijuana that far exceed tax revenue.”

But why, conscientious readers may be asking themselves, is the legislature not overriding the veto? A fair question, but it turns out that the legislation was passed with a simple majority in both houses and there is not sufficient support to override the veto with the required supermajorities.

This is not the first time the executive and legislative branches have changed parties and created a similar issue:

In 2021, Virginia made history as the first southern U.S. state to legalize marijuana for adult recreational use, when the Legislature approved the legalization proposal put forth by then-Gov. Ralph Northam, a Democrat.  The law legalized possession and use of cannabis for adults 21 and over, but contained a reenactment clause requiring state lawmakers to re-approve prongs of the legislation that focused on licensing regulated cannabis retailers and other businesses.

When Republicans took control of the House of Delegates and governorship in the November 2021 election, standing up the state’s regulated cannabis retail market took a back seat. While under GOP leadership, the chamber nixed multiple legislative efforts aimed at establishing a regulated cannabis marketplace.

A cannabis regulation bill passed the Democrat-controlled state Senate in 2023 on a largely party-line 24-16 vote, with two Republicans joining the Democratic majority to approve the bill and no Democrats voting against it, only for it to die in a GOP-controlled House of Delegates subcommittee.

Prior to that, in 2022, Republicans on a Virginia House subcommittee defeated on a 5-3 party-line vote a bill that would have implemented a regulated adult-use cannabis market.

Democrats’ success in regaining control of both chambers of the Virginia General Assembly on Election Day 2023 gave cannabis reform advocates renewed hope of seeing regulated sales commence in the state, an effort that stalled out under two years of Republican House control.

It’s too early to tell what comes next, but it seems unlikely that Gov. Youngkin will change his opinion or that the legislature will override the veto. This is obviously bad news for adult-use advocates in Virginia, but it is a useful glimpse into the state of the debate – particularly in the South.

FWIW, Thomas Jefferson (the patron saint of the Commonwealth) was into cannabis, too. Makes you think. We’ll stay on it.