A ‘new cannabis crime’ in Virginia attacked by a number of politicians

It seems that Virginia lawmakers are looking for a way to criminalize cannabis users.

Virginia lawmakers who made headlines this week after inventing a new cannabis-related crime are now facing backlash from politicians, regulators and marijuana advocates. Last year, the state legalized small amounts of marijuana for people 21 and older in 2021.

Now what?

What has happened now is that the new proposal under a two-year state budget proposes that possession of more than 4 ounces of cannabis in public should be treated as a class 3 misdemeanorwhich is liable to a fine of $500 and imposes on the arrested person a criminal record.

Second, any other offense would be considered a class 2 misdemeanor with a penalty of up to six months in jail and a fine of up to $1,000.

This is the third time in 2022that state legislative leaders have proposed new crimes for cannabis possession.

Budget compromise backed by House Appropriations Speaker Barry Knight (R-Virginia Beach) and Chairman of Senate Finance and Appropriations Janet Howell (D-Fairfax). If Governor Glenn Youngkin signs the budget, it will come into force on 1 July.

Senators react

A number of lawmakers are criticizing the new budget specifically because of the marijuana possession crime it creates. They argue that the process also lacked transparency and public participation, according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

Fairfax Democratic Sens. Howell and George Barker, chairman and vice chairman of the Senate Finance and Appropriations Committee, privately discussed the new state budget with House Appropriations Chairman Knight.

Sen. Jennifer McClellan (D-Richmond) called it odd that the Legislature would establish a new crime in the budget and said she hoped it wouldn’t happen again. She added that previous cannabis legislative proposals had allowed the public to participate with those who “had been disproportionately affected by the war on drugs”, unlike the current process.

“A handful of people who didn’t include a single member of the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus deciding on new criminal penalties…with no real opportunity for public input is concerning,” McClellan said.

Responding to these concerns, Howell said, “It’s so complicated, but I would refer people to the JLARC study that recommended it.” She was referencing a 2021 study by the state’s Joint Audit and Legislative Review Commission, which recommended that Virginia lawmakers establish a misdemeanor charge for adults caught in possession of what the state considers like too much cannabis.

Delete Mike Mullin (D-Newport News) also condemned the decision.

“Recriminalization sends us in the wrong direction,” Mullin said.

There is also Del. Marcus Simon(D-Fairfax) who said budget leaders put bad cannabis policy in the state’s spending plan.

What else, Senator Louise Lucas, (D-Portsmouth), and Senator Mamie Locke (D-Hampton), the Senate speakers who signed the budget, added their opposition to the marijuana proposal.

Virginia CannaJustice Coalitionreleased a statement harshly criticizing the proposal, arguing that Virginia “voted to reverse progress on decriminalization.”

“Research and data have already described the disparate historical application of these laws against black Virginians,” the Coalition said.

Photo: Courtesy of Avery Sweet on Unsplash

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