Virginia's chances of seeing adult-use cannabis retail shops before 2024 may have just vanished in a puff of smoke after last week's elections.
Only two years after Virginia's strong turnout in favor of President Biden, Republicans made a comeback during this year's state election. GOP candidate Glenn Youngkin defeated Democrat Terry McAuliffe by a slim 2 percent margin, and fellow Republicans also won the races for lieutenant governor and attorney general. And although the House of Delegates race is yet to be called, Republicans may be able to take back the seats they lost to Democrats in 2020.
This sudden red wave may deal a serious blow to the state's brand-new adult-use cannabis law. This April, current Governor Ralph Northam (who was unable to run this year because Virginia does not allow governors to serve for consecutive terms) signed a bill legalizing the personal possession, home cultivation, and use of cannabis by adults. The bill also set up the groundwork for legal retail pot sales to begin in 2024, but in its original version, personal possession and use would have remained illegal until 2024 as well.
Northam, a strong proponent of legalization, demanded that the bill be revised to end prohibition immediately. Lawmakers agreed, and sent the governor a revision making personal possession and use legal starting this July and directing the state to expunge thousands of former weed convictions. The revised law does not change the start date for legal sales, though, so at the governor's insistence, lawmakers and regulators began considering plans to advance that timeline.
But now that the Republicans swept last week's elections, those plans might just be dashed. Governor-elect Youngkin is a vocal critic of legalization, and is therefore not likely to sign off on a bill to advance legal pot sales. Fortunately, despite his reservations, the new governor has promised that he will not take action to repeal the adult-use law.
“Virginians were expecting an opportunity to expedite retail sales and cannabusiness licensing in the 2022 General Assembly. Now, it appears that chance may have gone up in smoke, and instead a potential delay looms on the horizon,” said Virginia NORML Executive Director Jenn Pedini in a statement. “Nonetheless, NORML remains dedicated to providing a voice in the General Assembly for the overwhelming majority of Virginians who favor the legalization and regulation of adult-use cannabis.”
A similar situation almost played out in New Jersey, but Democratic Governor Phil Murphy narrowly managed to defeat his popular Republican challenger. Murphy has long advocated for cannabis reform, even promising to legalize pot within his first 100 days in office. It actually took four years for the Garden State to make good on that promise, but with Murphy still in charge, licensed and regulated adult-use sales are still on track to begin early next year.