Virginia Governor Vetoes Bill to Protect Marijuana Users from Losing Child Custody

Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin ® has vetoed a bill that would have prevented the state from using marijuana consumption or possession alone as evidence of child abuse or neglect. The bill, which had passed the legislature with bipartisan support, was aimed at protecting the parental rights of cannabis users, who are currently at risk of losing custody or visitation of their children due to the state’s outdated and discriminatory policies.

The bill, SB 115, was introduced by Senator Louise Lucas (D), who is also the chief patron of the legislation that legalized adult-use cannabis in Virginia in 2021. The bill would have amended the state’s definition of child abuse and neglect to exclude the use or possession of cannabis or cannabis products that are authorized by state law, unless there is clear and convincing evidence that such use or possession has resulted in harm to the child or created a substantial risk of harm to the child.

The bill was supported by various advocacy groups, such as the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), the ACLU of Virginia, and the Virginia Poverty Law Center. They argued that the bill would protect the rights and interests of both parents and children, and that it would end the stigma and discrimination that cannabis users face in the child welfare system. They also pointed out that the bill would align Virginia’s policy with the majority of other states that have legalized cannabis, which do not use cannabis consumption or possession alone as grounds for child abuse or neglect.

The bill passed the Senate unanimously on February 8, and the House of Delegates with a 94-5 vote on February 25. It was then sent to the governor’s desk for his signature or veto.

The Veto: A Blow to Cannabis Reform and Parental Rights

On March 2, Governor Youngkin announced that he had vetoed the bill, along with 11 other bills that he deemed “unnecessary, unconstitutional, or contrary to the best interests of Virginians.” In his veto statement, Youngkin said that he rejected the bill because he believed that it would “undermine the safety and well-being of Virginia’s children.”

Youngkin claimed that the bill would “create a legal presumption that the use of marijuana by a parent or guardian does not constitute child abuse or neglect,” and that it would “limit the ability of child protective services and the courts to intervene in cases where a child’s health or welfare is endangered by a parent’s or guardian’s use of marijuana.” He also said that the bill would “contradict federal law and guidance,” and that it would “conflict with Virginia’s efforts to combat the opioid crisis and substance abuse disorders.”

Youngkin’s veto was met with disappointment and criticism by the bill’s supporters, who accused him of ignoring the will of the people and the legislature, and of perpetuating the war on drugs and the criminalization of cannabis users. They also challenged his arguments, saying that the bill would not prevent the state from intervening in cases where there is actual harm or risk of harm to the child, and that it would not interfere with the state’s efforts to address the opioid crisis and substance abuse disorders.

The Future: A Hope for Override or Reintroduction

The bill’s supporters have not given up on the reform, and they have vowed to continue their fight for the rights of cannabis users and their children. They have urged the legislature to override the governor’s veto, which would require a two-thirds majority vote in both chambers. However, this seems unlikely, as the legislature is currently in a special session that is focused on redistricting and the budget, and the veto override is not on the agenda.

Alternatively, the bill’s supporters have expressed their hope that the bill will be reintroduced in the next regular session, which will begin in January 2025. They have also called on the governor to reconsider his position, and to listen to the voices of the people and the experts who support the bill.

Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin has vetoed a bill that would have protected marijuana users from losing child custody, despite the bill’s bipartisan support and the state’s legalization of cannabis.

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