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New Virginia Governor Expresses Concerns About Cannabis

Virginia was the first South state to legalize recreational marijuana last year. However, this happened at a time in which the government was controlled by Democrats.

The state of legalization is a little more complicated now that Glenn Youngkin (the Republican Governor-elect) will be taking office in less then two weeks. With the GOP set to assume half the control of the General Assembly, the situation in the commonwealth appears a lot worse than it was 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 BusinessThat was published Friday.

However, when it comes time to set up a new market for marijuana, the incoming governor seems less certain.

“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. Law enforcement has raised concerns about how this gap can be closed. 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.”

Even though such businesses would have been years away from being open to the public, they were set up by law. 

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. He defeated Terry McAuliffe in November to win the election for the position of governor. The House of Delegates was retaken by the Republicans. The Senate still has a narrow majority of Democrats.

Interview with Virginia BusinessYoungkin will be sworn into office as Governor on January 15. He spoke positively about the possibilities presented by legal weed sale.

“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 that work will be put on the table. Again, I don’t look to overturn the bill, but I think we need to make sure that it works.”