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Governor blocks retail pot market in Virginia

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(The Center Square) – Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin dealt another blow to Virginia Democrats’ legislative agenda Thursday when he vetoed bills establishing a retail marijuana market.

Marijuana was legalized in 2021, the first among the Southern states to do so. Adults 21 and older can possess up to an ounce of marijuana and are allowed up to four plants per household.

But Youngkin has been an outspoken opponent of expanding the state’s cannabis market from the start, criticizing the drug’s legalization during his gubernatorial campaign. He signed legislation from the 2023 General Assembly session both limiting the THC content of intoxicating hemp products and restricting the advertisement of illegal products.

In his veto statement, Youngkin listed the potential damaging effects of less restrictive cannabis laws on a state’s youth as his first reason for rejecting the bills.

“The most concerning consequence of cannabis commercialization is its impact on adolescents and our children,” Youngkin wrote. “As cannabis has become legalized and commercialized, calls to U.S. Poison Control for children who have overdosed on edible cannabis products have increased by 400% since 2016.”

He also said the black market for pot becomes more difficult to control in states with legalized retail marijuana and that the drug can still be dangerous even when illegally produced.

“States that have attempted to regulate the black market for cannabis have generally failed,” Youngkin wrote, citing statistics on black market sales in Colorado and California.

He also referenced a study in New York which found 40% of cannabis products failed to meet required healthy and safety standards, “including tests for E. Coli, salmonella, accurate THC, and heavy metals.”

The Senate bill’s patron and former NFL player, Sen. Aaron Rouse, D-Virginia Beach, condemned the governor’s veto on social media platform X, formerly Twitter, contending the legislation would have had the opposite effect.

“Gov. Youngkin’s dismissive stance towards addressing Virginia’s cannabis sales dilemma is unacceptable. Public servants are obligated to tackle pressing issues. This legislation would have combated the illegal market & ensured access to safe, tested and taxed cannabis products,” Rouse wrote.

Del. Paul Krizek, D-Fairfax, who sponsored the legislation in the House of Delegates, also released a statement about the governor’s decision, echoing Rouse’s position.

“Governor Youngkin’s failure to act allows an already thriving illegal cannabis market to persist, fueling criminal activity and endangering our communities. 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,” Krizek said.

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