Virginia lawmakers are seeking to make public possession of more than four ounces of cannabis a crime again, less than a year after the legislature voted to legalize recreational cannabis for adults.
Last year, the Virginia General Assembly passed legislation to legalize possession of up to an ounce of pot for personal use. Possession of between one and a half ounces of cannabis was a civil offense carrying a fine of no more than $25, while possession of more than one pound of cannabis remained a felony.
But under a budget proposal released by state lawmakers over the weekend, public possession of more than four ounces of cannabis would become a Class 3 criminal offense punishable by a fine of up to $500. The second offense would be a second-degree misdemeanor, with convictions subject to six months in prison and a fine of up to $1,000.
The bipartisan budget compromise is supported by Republican House Appropriations Chair Barry Knight and Democratic Senate Funds and Appropriations Chair Janet Howell, According to the report From Richmond Times Dispatch.
“We didn’t get everything we wanted but I think, given what we got, we are very satisfied,” Nate said After the proposed budget was announced on Sunday evening. “I don’t think the Senate beat the House or the House beat the Senate.”
Last year, the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Committee recommended that Virginia follow other states and make possession of larger quantities of cannabis a misdemeanor, a change it said was wanted by police.
“It’s more in line with what other countries are doing, so we’re not an anomaly there on our part,” Knight said. “We know our law enforcement wanted it.”
Virginia Activists and some lawmakers oppose recriminalization
But cannabis activists and some lawmakers, including Senator Louise Lucas, oppose the change in the budget proposal.
“I’ve voted against this before as I work to stop these latest efforts to decriminalize marijuana,” Lucas tweeted. This targets black and black people who have been accused of exaggerated “crimes” in the past. We don’t need to go back to the past with these laws! ”
Chelsea Higgs Wise, CEO of Virginia’s Marijuana Justice Group, joined other activist organizations in an email sent to Howell Sunday night.
“Please stop finding more ways to criminalize the people of Virginia,” she wrote, adding, “Let’s work to right the wrongs of the failed and devastating ban.”
“Virginia officials must not allow a budget document to become a legislative solution to enforce the will of the administration while excluding the voice and will of the people,” Higgs Wise added.
Budget deal also has cannabis provisions
The budget solution also includes language that creates new labeling and laboratory testing requirements for cannabis products. The proposal would ban the sale of edible products containing THC to anyone under the age of 21, although it includes an exception for medical marijuana patients. The plan will also prohibit the sale of products “in certain child-friendly forms or counterfeit products.”
Dylan Bishop, a Virginia Business Association lobbyist, praised lawmakers and Governor Glenn Yongkin’s administration for working with the cannabis industry to craft the proposal.
“It adequately addresses legitimate public safety concerns about irresponsibly packaged and labeled products without unfairly harming Virginia farmers, retailers and small businesses,” Bishop said in a statement.
But Virginia NORML CEO JM Pedini, who has supported legislation that would have regulated Delta-8 products, said the settlement agreement would “preserve the loopholes that exist.”
The proposed budget isn’t the first time Virginia lawmakers have tried to roll back a cannabis legalization bill passed last year. During this year’s General Assembly regular session, Senator Adam Eben introduced a bill to regulate the sale of cannabis that would have created a new misdemeanor possession offense. And in April, the state Senate reject proposal of Youngkin that would have instituted criminal penalties for possession of more than an ounce of weed as part of the cannabis industry bill.
The General Assembly will meet in special session to consider the budget proposal, including a ruling to re-criminalize possession of more than four ounces of pot.