Youngkin vetoes Virginia bills mandating minimum wage increase, boosting retail marijuana sales

By | March 28, 2024

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) – Republican governor of Virginia. Glenn Youngkin on Thursday vetoed two top Democratic legislative priorities: bills that would have allowed recreational retail sales of marijuana to begin next year and measures that would have mandated an increase in the minimum wage.

The development did not come as a surprise. Although Youngkin had not explicitly threatened to veto either bill, he told reporters he did not think the minimum wage was necessary and had repeatedly said he was not interested in setting up retail marijuana.

In 2021, Virginia became the first Southern state to legalize marijuana, passing a policy change that allowed adults 21 and older to possess and cultivate the drug. But the state did not establish retail sales at the time and still has not, due to shifts in party power and policy differences since then.

Proponents say the decoupling allows the illicit market to flourish, while opponents worry about the safety and security of access to the drug. In a statement, Youngkin said he shared those concerns.

“States following this path have seen negative impacts on the health and safety of children and adolescents, increased gang activity and violent crime, significant mental health deterioration, decreased traffic safety, and significant costs associated with retail marijuana that far exceed tax revenues . It also does not eliminate the illegal sale of cannabis on the black market or ensure product safety,” he said in a veto statement accompanying the bills.

Currently, home cultivation and sharing of the drug by adults is legal in Virginia. And patients who receive a written statement from a healthcare provider can purchase medicinal cannabis from a pharmacy.

Under the bills, the state would have started taking applications for growing, testing, processing and selling the drug on September 1 in preparation for the opening of the market on May 1, 2025, with products being taxed at a rate of maximum 11.625%.

The legislation was supported by a range of industrial interests and opposed by religious and socially conservative groups.

Virginia first gained legalization at a time when Democrats had full control of the state government. Elections later that year changed that, with Youngkin winning and Republicans taking control of the House of Representatives for two years, although Democrats now regain full control of the state House.

While there has been some Republican legislative support for establishing legal recreational sales since the 2021 session, bills to do so failed in 2022 and 2023.

As for the wage legislation, which would have increased the current minimum wage of $12 per hour to $13.50 on January 1, 2025, and then to $15 on January 1, 2026, Youngkin said the bills would “jeopardize market freedom and economic conditions . competitiveness.”

The bills would “implement drastic wage mandates, increase costs for families and small businesses, put jobs at risk and fail to address regional economic disparities in Virginia,” he said in a news release.

Virginia Democrats launched an effort to raise the minimum wage in 2020. They passed legislation that year — which was delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic — creating incremental increases up to $12, with further bumps requiring another vote in the Assembly.

She and other advocates have argued that the legislation would help working families afford basic necessities and keep up with inflation.

Youngkin took action on a total of 107 bills on Thursday, according to his office. He signed 100, including measures that his office said would “strengthen law enforcement’s ability to prosecute child predators and increase Department of Corrections inmates’ access to quality health care.”

In addition to the marijuana and labor costs, he vetoed three others. An exemption for agricultural workers would have been removed from the state’s minimum wage law.

Another would have required that about 315 people in jail or on community supervision with marijuana convictions receive a sentence review, Youngkin’s office said.

“Ninety-seven inmates convicted of a violent crime, such as first-degree murder, kidnapping and robbery, would be eligible for sentence reductions under this proposal,” he said in his veto statement.

Thursday’s final veto came for a bill dealing with the type of evidence that can be considered in certain workers’ compensation claims. The governor said the current law provides a “balanced approach,” while the proposal would “create a disproportionate imbalance in favor of one party.”

The part-time General Assembly suspended its regular session earlier this month and will meet again in Richmond on April 17 for a one-day session to discuss Youngkin’s proposed changes to the law. They could also try to override one or more vetoes, a move that would require a two-thirds vote from both chambers, which are only narrowly controlled by Democrats.

Marijuana legislation passed largely along party lines, and minimum wage laws were passed strictly along party lines, meaning any attempt at overreach would almost certainly fail.

Youngkin announced the vetoes a day after the public collapse of one of his top legislative priorities: a deal to bring the NHL’s Washington Capitals and the NBA’s Washington Wizards to Alexandria. The teams’ majority owner announced they would remain in DC instead

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