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

Glenn Youngkin, governor of Virginia, vetoed bills on Thursday that would mandate a minimum wage increase and would allow recreational retail sales of marijuana.

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

The development did not come as a surprise. While Youngkin had not explicitly threatened to veto either set of bills, he told reporters he didn’t think the minimum wage bill was needed and had repeatedly said he was uninterested in setting up retail marijuana sales.

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In 2021, Virginia became the first Southern state to legalize marijuana, adopting a policy change that allowed adults age 21 and up to possess and cultivate the drug. But the state didn’t set up retail sales at the time and still hasn’t, due to shifts in partisan power and policy differences since then.

Advocates say the disconnect is allowing the illicit market to flourish, while opponents have safety health and safety concerns with further expanding access to the drug. In a statement, Youngkin said he shared those worries.

“States following this path have seen 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. It also does not eliminate the illegal black-market sale of cannabis, nor guarantee product safety,” he said in a veto statement attached to the bills.

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Currently in Virginia, home cultivation and adult sharing of the drug are legal. And patients who receive a written certification from a health care provider can purchase medical cannabis from a dispensary.

Under the bills, the state would have started taking applications on Sept. 1 for cultivating, testing, processing and selling the drug in preparation for the market to open May 1, 2025, with products taxed at a rate of up to 11.625%.

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

Virginia first took on legalization at a time when Democrats were in full control of state government. Elections later that year changed that, with Youngkin winning and Republicans taking control of the House of Delegates for two years, though Democrats are now back in full control of the statehouse.

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

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

The bills would “implement drastic wage mandates, raise costs on families and small businesses, jeopardize jobs, and fail to recognize regional economic differences across Virginia,” he said in a news release.

Virginia Democrats began an effort to increase the minimum wage in 2020. They passed legislation that year — which took effect with a delay due to the coronavirus pandemic — establishing incremental increases up to $12, with further bumps requiring another Assembly vote.

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

Youngkin took action on a total of 107 bills 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 expand Department of Corrections inmate access to quality health services.”

Besides the marijuana and wage bills, he vetoed three others. One would have removed an exemption for farmworkers from the state’s minimum wage law.

Another would have required that approximately 315 individuals incarcerated or on community supervision with a felony marijuana conviction receive a sentencing review, according to Youngkin’s office.

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

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

The part-time General Assembly adjourned its regular session earlier this month and will meet again in Richmond for a one-day session April 17 to consider Youngkin’s proposed amendments to legislation. They could also attempt to override one or more vetoes, a move that requires a 2/3 vote of both chambers, which are only narrowly controlled by Democrats.

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The marijuana legislation advanced mostly along party lines, and the minimum wage bills passed strictly on party lines, meaning any override attempt would be almost certain to 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 NBA’s Washington Wizards to Alexandria. The teams’ majority owner announced they would instead be staying in D.C.

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