RICHMOND – You might not see it, but the process of how marijuana will become legalized for retail sale is on the ballot this November in Virginia. The commonwealth legalized simple possession of marijuana up to an ounce earlier this year, but the framework for retail legalization — so it can be bought and sold, is still yet to be determined.
After the statewide and House of Delegates elections this November, a new governor will be in office and there could potentially be a new majority in the House. Depending on which party ends up winning, the retail legalization process could be significantly impacted.
“The next governor will decide whether recreational sales happen or not,” state Senator Scott Surovell D-Fairfax said in an interview. “That governor will be in a position to veto any kind of bill that authorizes [retail sales],” Surovell continued while noting that it could have a “very significant impact.”
In a poll from February, 68% of registered voters in Virginia said they support the legalization of marijuana.
Glenn Youngkin, the Republican nominee for governor, has said he has concerns about certain sections of the legislation, but would not seek to repeal the simple possession of marijuana.
“Glenn has serious concerns about the provision of the law that empowers labor union bosses at the expense of small business owners, and would tie the hands of business owners, but has said before that he will not seek to repeal legalization and instead will focus on building a rip-roaring economy with better jobs and bigger paychecks for working Virginians,” said Macaulay Porter, a spokesperson for Youngkin’s campaign.
Youngkin would only be confronted with the prospect of repealing simple possession if the House and Senate vote with a simple majority to repeal it.
Speaker of the House Eileen Filler-Corn’s office says the Republicans would try and repeal the legalization of marijuana if they can. The entire GOP House caucus voted against the bill earlier this year, but it still passed with 54 Democratic votes. The House Republican caucus has not responded to questions after multiple attempts from Virginia Scope.
Filler-Corn’s Democratic caucus has a 55-45 majority after the Democrats flipped 21 seats during the previous two cycles.
“The marijuana reform legislation passed by the Democratic Majority over the objections of Republicans is widely supported by Virginians in all regions of the state,” said her communications director, Sigalle Reshef. “And while Democrats are focused on continuing to move Virginia in the right direction, providing equity in our marijuana laws, and establishing a responsible path forward, Republicans have made it clear they will try to repeal the progress we’ve made in the last few years.”
If Youngkin wins and the Democrats keep control of the House, he could potentially veto any new legislation that the General Assembly sends him that he doesn’t like. That would be in his power as executive given to him by Virginia voters.
A Youngkin veto on Democratic legislation that he disagrees with could stall the retail legalization process, leaving no options to legally purchase marijuana in Virginia. “Even if we were able to work things out, I doubt that there are enough votes on the Republican side to override any kind of veto,” Surovell said.
The Youngkin campaign would not comment on hypotheticals.
A spokesperson for the Democratic gubernatorial nominee Terry McAuliffe said he fully supports the legislation already put forth from the Democrats to establish retail sales and would veto anything that would repeal legalization. “Marijuana legalization is going to bring over $300 million dollars in revenue per year to our Commonwealth and any efforts to repeal this legislation would be ludicrous,” said McAuliffe spokesperson Renzo Olivari. “And let’s not forget, this bill passed with bipartisan support. If there were an effort to repeal it, Terry would do exactly what he has done before: work with both sides to find a path forward and keep this new law on the books.”
The Senate will remain a 21-19 majority for the next two years, but a Republican victory in the lieutenant governor’s race would leave the Democrats with only one vote to spare. The lieutenant governor presides over the state Senate and only votes to break a tie.
Democratic lieutenant governor nominee Hala Ayala touted the economic benefits of retail legalization in a statement to Virginia Scope. “The fact of the matter is that legalizing marijuana is good for the economy and a central component to equitable criminal justice reform,” Ayala said. “In addition to helping our Black and Brown community members who have been unjustly targeted by marijuana criminalization in the past, legalization will create thousands of new jobs in Virginia, lead to hundreds of new businesses, and generate millions of dollars in revenue that will go towards supporting Pre-K education for our at-risk children, rehabilitation services for those plagued by drug addiction, and reinvestment in communities hurt by prohibition.”
Republican lieutenant governor nominee Winsome Sears expressed caution about moving forward with legalization. “The legalization of marijuana should still be studied and scrutinized despite its new accepted status,” Sears said in a statement to Virginia Scope. “We should continue to study the effects that it has on people-on families. We have to determine whether or not it creates success or destroys success.”
A report from Governor Northam’s office earlier this year projected that Virginia could receive around $275 million in tax revenue each year from the legalization of marijuana.
Under the current law, households can grow up to four marijuana plants at a time and adults over 21 years old can gift it to other people — but it is still illegal to sell marijuana in the commonwealth.
Virginia voters will ultimately decide who is in control of creating the framework for retail sales this November. The Democrats could keep the House and statewide seats enabling them to remain in the driver’s seat for legalization — or the Republicans could flip 6 seats and win the Executive Mansion giving themselves prominent influence over the remainder of the process.
Early voting in Virginia begins Sept. 17.
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