Cannabusiness Advisory

Governor Youngkin’s Veto of Adult-Use Cannabis in Virginia

April 3, 2024


At the end of March, Governor Glenn Youngkin (R-VA) vetoed a bill passed by the Virginia legislature designed to create a recreational cannabis market in the Commonwealth, citing “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.”

I’ve been an advocate of medical marijuana for 14 years, a professional in the cannabis industry for three years, and a consumer of cannabis products for an undisclosed number of years (in case my mom reads this). Despite my efforts to always remain objective, thoughtful, and open-minded to the perspectives of others, clearly, the cannabis echo chamber I reside in as a member of the cannabis community has impaired my ability to appreciate others’ arguments on the topic of state legalization of cannabis. I find Governor Youngkin’s arguments against decriminalization and commercialization of cannabis tendentious, uninformed, and Victorian.

This unilateral obstruction by Governor Youngkin of the majority policy view of democratically elected legislators is a sobering reminder that the stigmas surrounding, and unfounded fear of, cannabis as a medicine and/or a recreational activity still flourishes in our nation. I felt warm and supported in my community of knowledgeable and enthusiastic industry colleagues, but Governor Youngkin roused me from my daydream with a bucket of ice-cold veto water. I thank him for reminding me that there remains a critical need for education and research to combat the misconceptions surrounding cannabis.

Governor Youngkin’s veto is riddled with propaganda that entirely ignores contrary evidence. I’ll take on a few of his incorrect or incomplete arguments (there are too many in the 8-page veto to tackle in this short blog), but I encourage you to read his veto and research his arguments so that you are better prepared to combat anti-cannabis rhetoric when you’re faced with it.

First, I want to be clear that I do not view cannabis as an infallible, cure-all remedy. It is a natural product that should be approached and consumed responsibly or not at all if that is your preference. Governor Youngkin and I agree that cannabis should not be used or accessible by children and teenagers and that it is the responsibility of the cannabis community to mitigate underage exposure. However, there are many legal items that children should not use, so that argument alone is not a compelling reason for the prohibition of a legal market for adults (e.g., motorcycles, chainsaws, gasoline).

The argument that legal cannabis markets increase crime and violence has been disproven. Ample evidence exists throughout history that prohibition encourages the emergence of lucrative black markets since no entrepreneur can legally operate in such a market. Enter Al Capone. Sure, it would be best if a thing being illegal was enough to dissuade enterprising young people from engaging in its manufacture and sale, but we would deny millennia of consistent human behavior if we ignored the fact that where there is money to be made, there will be participants. Further, when a lucrative industry lacks regulatory oversight, the behaviors of the participants therein to maximize profits are often…criminal Crime related to illegal cannabis markets is not a cannabis problem. It’s a policy problem that shines the light on the unfortunate greed of certain members of the human race.

This next lie diminishes decades of work by advocates and scientists and discounts the immeasurable relief cannabis has provided to ill and afflicted members of our community: “The consensus from the leading medical journals, backed by extensive studies and research, indicates that cannabis is neither beneficial nor safe.” This is patently untrue, and there’s a library’s worth of scholarly evidence to refute it, but I have always preferred the anecdotal evidence on this point. In my short life, I have witnessed first-hand an 80-year-old woman grappling with late-stage lymphoma and the brutal side effects of its treatment eat an edible and smile, laugh, and enjoy pineapple juice like a third grader at recess. I’ve seen a man suffering from Parkinson’s take a small toke and slip into the sweet relief of a still body. Luckily, there is a medical marijuana market in Virginia, and there isn’t a damn thing Governor Youngkin can do about it.

Another false claim in Youngkin’s veto is that the costs and expenses incurred by the state in establishing and maintaining a recreational cannabis market are greater than the tax revenue generated. He is correct that a legal market requires an enormous amount of capital to prop up and maintain, but that financial burden is not borne by the state. The licensed businesses cover 99.99%+ of these costs and expenses through fees, taxes, and reimbursements to the state or municipality. It is clear Governor Youngkin is unfamiliar with what it looks like to obtain and maintain a cannabis license in a regulated cannabis market. While the tax revenue derived from cannabis operations is insufficientto balance the checkbook, it still represents a welcome and needed influx of funding for each state’s priorities.

Governor Youngkin states that the dollar cost of “lost productivity” and “increased traffic deaths” outweigh the tax revenue generated by the cannabis market, but he neglects to provide proof that (1) states with legal cannabis market experience lost productivity (I do not even know how you measure that) and increased traffic deaths, or (2) that such events are a result of cannabis use. These are typical incoherent, boogeyman arguments used by the uninformed citizenry to oppose something it does not understand and is uncomfortable with for various personal reasons.

Governor Youngkin’s veto is a frustrating piece of writing to endure, but I encourage you to read it. Right or very wrong, his arguments represent the primary arguments of the anti-cannabis hardliners. We can’t ignore these arguments solely because we vehemently disagree with them. We need to listen carefully, educate accurately, and react kindly. As cannabis decriminalization and legalization sweep our country at an unprecedented pace, our community continues to be belittled, stigmatized, and underestimated. We can endure more stings from Governor Youngkin and his ilk as we forge a better future of tolerance, truth, and courage.

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