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Virginia Governor Continues To Stand In The Way Of Progress

Since the beginning of the state’s cannabis legalization movement, Virginia has been a notable battleground. Early signs that the Old Dominion might be relaxing its stance on the War on Drugs gave advocates hope. However, each step has been met with setbacks, thanks to Governor Glenn Youngkin’s veto last Thursday.

In a controversial veto exercise, Youngkin essentially squashed the legislative path for this session that would have led to the establishment of a legal marketplace for adult-use marijuana. With this move, the governor, who had previously made his anti-cannabis stance known, demonstrated a clear intent to stand between Virginians and the economic and social opportunities that accompany legal recreational cannabis.

Despite early support for marijuana reform — Virginia made history as the first Southern state to legalize adult-use possession and cultivation in 2021 — the failure to enact a retail structure puts the state in a policy purgatory.

Upon assuming office, Youngkin wasted no time in dismantling the incremental progress made by his predecessor. His justifications for the recent vetoes echo a rhetoric miles away from the growing national sentiment on cannabis. Citing generic fears — ‘cannabis is bad for Virginia’ — and outdated narratives about increased crime, Youngkin is taking a page out of the unfounded propaganda that historically underpinned cannabis prohibition.

“I don’t plan on signing that bill,” Youngkin said via WTKR a week before his veto. “I had somebody ask me if I was gonna to sign. Anybody who thinks I’m going to sign that legislation must have been smoking something.”

“The proposed legalization of retail marijuana in the Commonwealth endangers Virginians’ health and safety. States following this path have seen adverse effects on children’s and 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. It also does not eliminate the illegal black-market sale of cannabis, nor guarantee product safety. Addressing the inconsistencies in enforcement and regulation in Virginia’s current laws does not justify expanding access to cannabis, following the failed paths of other states and endangering Virginians’ health and safety,” said Governor Glenn Youngkin in his veto statement for HB 698 and SB 448.

However, maybe more troubling than Youngkin’s words is the possible reason for his reluctance to progress. There’s speculation that the veto might not be all about cannabis. Instead, it could be a political chess move in response to the continued refusal of Democrat lawmakers to support one of the governor’s pet projects, the construction of a $2 billion Sports & Entertainment complex that was planned for northern Virginia. It aimed to relocate the Washington Capitals and Wizards to a new arena, funded by billions in taxpayer-backed bonds.

Youngkin’s Misguided Cannabis Crusade

Youngkin’s veto and the accompanying rhetoric belie a fatal misunderstanding of the cannabis landscape today. The Governor’s narrative might have rung true during the heyday of Reefer Madness, but it’s woefully outdated in the face of modern research and real-world experience.

Contrary to his claims, legalization has not ushered in waves of crime or social ills in other states. If anything, it has been a revenue boost for government funds and a relief for law enforcement. His fears of an uptick in adolescent use conflict starkly with CDC data and NORML report that show a decrease in youth consumption in the past decade. Furthermore, the idea that legal frameworks provide no barriers to adolescence is directly challenged by the consistent practices of licensed dispensaries in restricting underage sales.

The irony in Governor Youngkin’s stance against establishing a legal marketplace for cannabis in Virginia cannot be overstated. His argument suggests that legalizing retail marijuana would not curtail the “illicit” market, yet by vetoing the development of a regulated marketplace, he inadvertently pushes consumers towards the very “illicit” market he aims to combat.

This paradoxical position seems to overlook a fundamental economic principle: when a product is legal for recreational and medical use, but lacks a legal purchasing framework, consumers are left with no choice but to turn to unregulated sources or go out of state.

Furthermore, this decision has baffling financial implications. By rejecting the establishment of a legal, regulated cannabis market, Virginia forfeits a lucrative revenue stream that could significantly contribute to the state’s economy.

Consider the potential tax income from cannabis sales, which other states have successfully leveraged to fund public projects, including education and infrastructure. Virginia’s refusal to tap into this market is a missed opportunity, not just economically but also in terms of public safety and health. It’s like the state is just tossing cash away—cash that could ironically go towards funding Governor Youngkin’s grand dreams of his precious sports complex.

Overall, Governor Youngkin’s staunch opposition to cannabis legislation is a glaring example of political ideology impeding practical policy development, effectively hindering Virginia’s progress. By echoing outdated cannabis propaganda, his justifications for blocking the establishment of a regulated cannabis market are neither substantiated by current evidence nor aligned with common sense.

Despite his previous assertions of disinterest in advancing cannabis legislation, his actions—as governor—have starkly confirmed this stance. It seems that as long as Governor Youngkin holds office, or until there is a political compromise to fund his ambitious sports arena project, Virginia will remain in a paradoxical state where cannabis is legal for medical and adult use, yet without a legal marketplace for purchase.

This situation not only deprives Virginians of a potentially safe and regulated means to access cannabis but also denies the state considerable economic benefits. Youngkin’s anti-cannabis stance, thus, not only reflects a personal political agenda but also underscores a broader issue of governance where ideology trumps evidence, and political gamesmanship overshadows the welfare of state residents.

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