Virginia made history last year when it became the first state in the South to legalize recreational pot, but that came at a time when Democrats controlled the state government.
Now, with Republican Governor-elect Glenn Youngkin set to take office in less than two weeks and the GOP ready to assume control of one-half of the general assembly, the state of legalization in the commonwealth looks a bit hazier than it did nine months ago.
But in a new interview, Youngkin says he isn’t going to pull the plug on the new law entirely.
“I will not seek to overturn the law on personal possession,” Youngkin said in an interview with Virginia Business that was published on Friday.
When it comes to setting up a new marijuana market, however, the incoming governor is less sure.
“When it comes to commercialization, I think there is a lot of work to be done. I’m not against it, but there’s a lot of work to be done,” Youngkin said in the interview. “There are some nonstarters, including the forced unionization that’s in the current bill. There have been concerns expressed by law enforcement in how the gap in the laws can actually be enforced. Finally, there’s a real need to make sure that we aren’t promoting an anti-competitive industry. I do understand that there are preferences to make sure that all participants in the industry are qualified to do the industry well.”
In April of last year, Virginia’s outgoing governor, the Democrat Ralph Northam, signed a bill into law legalizing possession of cannabis for adults aged 21 and older. The legislation passed the Democratic-controlled General Assembly weeks before, making it legal to possess up to an ounce of pot as of July 1, 2021.
“What this really means is that people will no longer be arrested or face penalties for simple possession that follow them and affect their lives,” Northam said at the time. “We know that marijuana laws in Virginia and throughout this country have been disproportionately enforced against communities of color and low-income Virginians.”
The law also established a framework to set up a market for cannabis cultivation and sales, although such businesses were likely years away from opening their doors to customers.
Northam’s administration has said that the newly created Cannabis Control Authority, authorized under the new law to regulate Virginia’s marijuana industry, “will work to create a fair and equitable regulatory structure and provide critical guidance to the CCA’s staff as they work to develop a workforce, establish regulations and ensure that marijuana legalization accomplishes the health, safety and equity goals established by law.”
According to the CCA, it “will not be legal to sell marijuana before 2024,” and that “it remains a crime to sell any amount of marijuana” until then.
“If the licensing provisions of the bill are reenacted (approved again) in the 2022 General Assembly session, you will likely be able to apply for a marijuana business license in 2023,” the agency says on its website.
Youngkin’s comments may cast doubt on the prospects of commercialization. In November, he defeated the Democrat Terry McAuliffe to become the next governor, while Republicans re-claimed control of the House of Delegates. (Democrats still maintain a slim majority in the Senate.)
In his interview with Virginia Business, Youngkin, who will be sworn in as governor on January 15, spoke positively of some of the opportunities presented by legal weed sales.
“I am all for opportunities for minority-owned businesses, women-owned businesses [and] military-owned businesses,” Youngkin said. “We also have to make sure that they have the capabilities to compete and thrive in the industry. So, I think there’s work to be done. All of that will be on the table. Again, I don’t look to overturn the bill, but I think we need to make sure that it works.”