A new forecast of Virginia’s election predicts that Democrats are likely to win control of both chambers of the legislature on Tuesday—a result some advocates believe could open the door for lawmakers to legalize retail cannabis sales in the state. A separate poll, meanwhile, found 58 percent support among likely voters for allowing marijuana sales to proceed.
While marijuana legalization technically isn’t on Virginia’s ballot this week, advocates expect the results of the statewide election to shape the future of marijuana policy in the state. Specifically, some think that Democratic control of both chambers would mean the possibility of regulated cannabis sales to adults, while a broad GOP victory could allow Republicans to repeal the state’s limited legalization law.
Virginia legalized use, possession and limited personal cultivation of marijuana by adults in 2021, but commercial sales are still illegal and unregulated. The Republican majority in the House of Delegates has stood in the way of legislation to allow retail sales, most recently voting down a bill passed in February by the Democratic-controlled Senate from Sen. Adam Ebbin (D).
With every seat in Virginia’s legislature up for re-election, new projections from the firm CNalysis show Democrats with a slight edge in both chambers. The firm said Monday that there’s a 71 percent chance that Democrats maintain control of the state Senate and a 61 percent chance the party captures the House. Republicans, meanwhile, had 29 percent and 31 percent likelihoods, respectively, while CNalysis said there’s an 8 percent chance of a tie in the House.
“We’re not going to make progress on cannabis without a Democratic majority in the Virginia General Assembly,” Ebbin told Marijuana Moment in an interview last month. “Republicans in the House have repeatedly stymied our efforts to move forward on regulation and sales of a tested, legal product.”
A new survey of likely voters in Virginia, meanwhile, shows strong support for legal sales. The poll of 800 people, conducted by Christopher Newport University between September 28 and October 11, found that 58 percent of respondents favor allowing commercial sales.
That number includes nearly 3 in 4 Democrats (76 percent) and 59 percent of independents. Only 38 percent of Republican voters said they supported the change.
Younger voters were also more likely to favor legal sales, the poll found, with voters 18–44 showing 69 percent support compared to 54 percent among voters 45 and older.
Even if Democrats do win control of both chambers, they would still face potential opposition from Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R), who is slated to serve through the end of 2025.
Youngkin has been wary of allowing legal sales, and in June a member of his administration said the governor “has stated that he is not interested in any further moves towards legalization of adult recreational use marijuana.”
Ebbin said last month that Youngkin “has been a challenge to deal with because he hasn’t been forthcoming with his views on what he’s willing to support.”
Advocates are hopeful that broad support for marijuana legalization from Virginia voters would dissuade the governor from vetoing any legislative-passed reform bill or sending it back to lawmakers with recommendations for major amendments.
If Republicans were to capture both chambers, some legalization advocates worry the result could be a return to prohibition. With a GOP-controlled legislature and Youngkin in the governor’s chair, it’s possible Virginia could become the first state in the modern cannabis movement to undo legalization.
“That is a very valid concern,” Ebbin said last month. “We have a lot of big issues effectively on the ballot in November—they include the progress we’ve made on cannabis, a woman’s right to choose, LGBT rights and the environment—and Republicans have shown an appetite repeatedly to move backwards on these important issues.”
Not everyone is expecting tomorrow’s election to have such sweeping impacts on cannabis policy, however.
Chelsea Higgs Wise is the executive director for Marijuana Justice, a Black-led organization in Virginia that’s led the call to legalize marijuana with an emphasis on repairing harms caused by the drug war. While she agreed the coming election could have big implications for cannabis policy, she said it’s possible that with new districts, new members and new committee makeups, the legislature might shy away from sweeping change.
“We’re going to have brand-new people,” Wise said last month. “Just the culture of brand-new legislators, they don’t like to do too much, and marijuana is historically a very large lift. And I will say that there is not a known champion in the Virginia legislature that is ready to carry that.”
She expects that Youngkin’s looming presence will chill efforts at legalization, even if Democrats control both chambers. “If we don’t have a champion, we don’t have a broad push from the public and the governor doesn’t want it, these new legislators are not going to come in with marijuana on their mind,” Wise said.
On the other hand, she doubts Republicans would try to outlaw personal use and possession. “Even with a Republican majority, I do not think that they’re going to put their effort into undoing that because of their newness and because they didn’t run on that,” she said.
Wise does think Republicans would be eager to put more resources into training police and cracking down on illegal pop-up shops, however. “They are absolutely coming for legalization in a way,” she said, “but I don’t believe it’ll be the simple possession or homegrow.”
The advocacy group Virginia NORML conducted a candidate survey on cannabis and published a voter guide for the November 7 election with the aim of informing the electorate about where incumbents and challengers stand on cannabis policy reform.
Meanwhile in Virginia, several hemp businesses were recently hit with five-figure fines as part of an effort by the state to crack down on hemp cannabinoid products.
Two companies and a private citizen have also sued over the newly tightened rules for hemp products, which set the maximum amount of THC in hemp products at 0.3 percent concentration and 2 milligrams per package. The threshold made illegal hundreds of products already on store shelves. But late last month, a judge denied their claim.
Earlier this year, the GOP-controlled House also killed a proposal that would have let medical cannabis businesses made certain state-level tax deductions. That vote came days after Republicans scuttled the measure to start adult-use marijuana sales as well as legislation to create a psilocybin advisory board and reschedule the psychedelic.
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