Youngkin Kills Adult-Use Cannabis Retail Bill in Virginia

Virginia state capitol building in Richmond cannabis legalization bill vetoed
Photo: Sean Pavone / Shutterstock

RICHMOND, Va. – Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin vetoed a bill this week that would have established a framework for creating an adult-use retail marketplace with sales expected to launch in May 2025. House Bill 698 and Senate Bill 448 began their congressional journeys in early January, narrowly passing in both Democrat-led bodies through largely party-line votes.

“The proposed legalization of retail marijuana in the commonwealth endangers Virginians’ health and safety,” Youngkin said in his four-page veto statement. “States following this path have seen adverse effects on children’s and adolescents’ 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.”


Youngkin also signaled his unwavering devotion to the criminalization of cannabis, lamenting the successful bi-partisan effort in 2020 to decriminalize possession of less than one ounce of cannabis. Virginians aged 21 and older may also cultivate up to four plants. 

“Attempting to rectify the error of decriminalizing marijuana by establishing a safe and regulated marketplace is an unachievable goal,” said Youngkin. “The more prudent approach would be to revisit the issue of discrepancies in enforcement, not compounding the risks and endangering Virginians’ health and safety with greater market availability.”

Youngkin attempted to recriminalize cannabis in 2021 with a proposed amendment that would have created two new misdemeanors for personal possession. However, lawmakers in the Senate refused to advance the related bill, effectively killing Youngkin’s effort for the legislative session.

During his campaign for governor, Youngkin described cannabis as “another problem that’s going to be dumped at my feet” should he be elected. 

 “If there was a group of children that were sitting here and I was talking to them about marijuana, I would tell them don’t use it,” Youngkin said at a rally in April 2021. “I’ve never met anybody who habitually used marijuana and was successful, and I would tell all them the same thing.”

In a press release, sponsors of the adult-use retail bills criticized Youngkin’s veto as reckless and negligent.

“Governor Youngkin’s dismissive stance towards addressing Virginia’s cannabis sales dilemma is unacceptable,” said State Sen. Aaron Rouse (D). “Public servants are obligated to tackle pressing issues, regardless of their origin or culpability. They cannot cherry-pick which problems to address.”

Said Del. Paul Krizek (D), “Governor Youngkin’s failure to act allows an already thriving illegal cannabis market to persist, fueling criminal activity and endangering our communities. This veto squandered a vital opportunity to safeguard Virginians and will only exacerbate the proliferation of illicit products, posing greater risks to our schools and public safety.”

Virginia harbors a thriving illicit cannabis market worth an estimated $2.4 billion in 2023. So-called gifting shops advertise openly on billboards across the state, with many appearing to operate with impunity in the vacuum created without a legal retail market.

While a veto override is technically possible, doing so would require a two-thirds vote in both legislative chambers. Democrats hold a slim majority in each chamber, but Republicans largely follow the governor’s lead.

“The idea that any of this [recent legislative effort] is going to get rid of the black market is laughable, with all due respect,” said Del. Todd Gilbert (R). “In every state that’s legalized [cannabis], the black market, if anything, is much more robust.”