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Virginia Lawmakers Want to Recriminalize Pot

Virginia lawmakers want to criminalize public possession of over four ounces pot again. This is less than one year after recreational cannabis was legalized for adults in Virginia.

Virginia’s General Assembly adopted legislation in 2013 to permit personal use of up to 1 ounce of marijuana. The civil infraction of possessing between 1 ounce and 1 pound cannabis was limited to a $25 fine, while the felony of possession over one pound remains.

The weekend budget proposal from state legislators would have made public possession exceeding four ounces of marijuana a Class 3 Misdemeanor crime. A fine up to $500 could be imposed. The second offense, a Class 2 Misdemeanor with a six-month sentence in prison and a maximum $1,000 fine, would result.

According to a report by the The, Barry Knight (Republican House Appropriations) and Janet Howell (Democratic Senate Finance and Appropriations) support the bipartisan budget compromise. Richmond Times-Dispatch.

“We didn’t get all we wanted but I think, in view of what we got, we are very satisfied,” Knight said after the budget proposal was released on Sunday evening. “I don’t think that the Senate prevailed over the House or the House prevailed over the Senate.”

The Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission recommended last year that Virginia adopt the recommendation of other states and declare possession of greater amounts of marijuana a misdemeanor. This was a move that he stated was wanted by the police.

“It’s more in line with what other states are doing so we’re not an anomaly out there by ourselves,” said Knight. “We know our law enforcement wanted it.”

Virginia Activists, Some Lawmakers Resist Recriminalization

However, cannabis activists as well as some legislators, such state senator L. Louise Lucas are opposed to the proposed budget change.

“I voted against this before and I am working to stop this latest effort to criminalize marijuana,” Lucas tweeted. “This is targeted at black and brown people who have been overcharged with these ‘crimes’ in the past. We do not need to go back to the past with these laws!”

Chelsea Higgs Wise is the executive director for Marijuana Justice Virginia. She joined other activists in an email that was sent to Howell Sunday night.

“Please stop finding more ways to criminalize Virginians,” she wrote, adding, “let’s work on righting the wrongs from the failed and destructive prohibition.”

“Virginia officials must not allow the budget document to become a legislative workaround to enforce the will of the administration at the exclusion of the voice and will of the people,” Higgs Wise added.

Hemp Provisions Also Available in Budget Deal

Budget compromise language also creates new lab testing and labeling requirements for hemp products. Although the proposal prohibits selling edible products that contain THC to children under 21, it does allow for exceptions for patients who are medically able. The plan would also prohibit products sold in “certain child-friendly shapes or that are counterfeit products.”

Dylan Bishop, who is a lobbyist at the Cannabis Business Association of Virginia (CBA), praised legislators and the administration of Governor Glenn Youngkin, for their cooperation with the hemp sector to draft this proposal.

“It adequately addresses the legitimate public safety concern over irresponsibly packaged and labeled products without unfairly disadvantaging Virginia’s farmers, retailers and small businesses,” Bishop said in a statement.

But Virginia NORML executive director J.M. Pedini, who backed legislation that would have regulated delta-8 products, said that the compromise agreement “would maintain existing loopholes.”

This budget proposal marks not the first attempt by Virginia legislators to repeal the last year’s cannabis legalization law. During this year’s regular session of the General Assembly, Senator Adam Ebbin introduced a bill to regulate cannabis sales that would have created a new misdemeanor possession offense. In April, the State Senate rejected Youngkin’s proposal to create criminal penalties for possessing more than two ounces cannabis.

To review the budget proposal and the provision that recriminalizes possession of more pot than four ounces, the General Assembly will hold a special session.