Virginia Votes to Re-Criminalize
Virginia’s Republic Governor Glenn Youngkin has proposed an amendment to substitute SB 591, which would increase the penalty of personal possession of more than two ounces of cannabis. This amendment is taking effect just one year after Virginia became the first state in the South to legalize recreational use.
Virginia proposes new laws to punish cannabis possession
The current penalty of personal possession of more than one ounce of cannabis by adults 21 years of age or older is a $25 civil penalty. Youngkin’s new amendment would create two new misdemeanors: a Class 2 misdemeanor where personal possession of over two ounces of cannabis is punishable up to six months in jail and/or a $1,000 fine; and a Class 1 misdemeanor where personal possession of over six ounces is punishable up to 12 months in jail and/or a $2,500 fine.
Legalization: Two Steps forward, one step back
Virginia was moving steadily in the uphill battle to bring cannabis into the mainstream with its legalization laws taking effect July 1, 2021. Virginia’s governor at the time, Ralph Northam, signed HB 972, decriminalizing cannabis possession with a mandated maximum penalty of $25. With Youngkin’s amendments to SB 591, creating two new misdemeanors for personal possession, Virginia’s journey to legalization and decriminalization has taken a backward step.
In an investigation conducted by the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission (JLARC) in 2020, it was concluded that legalizing recreational cannabis can reduce the harm prohibition has caused for minorities and improve social equity by allowing disadvantaged groups the opportunity to establish their own cannabis business and generate wealth in their communities.
There are already laws in place to prohibit possession of quantities of cannabis not intended for personal use so Virginia law enforcement can effectively prosecute those engaged in drug trafficking. The new laws do not address the need to curb such illicit sales, and will only punish those in possession of their own harvests. As Virginians are permitted to grow up to 4 plants at home for personal use and such harvests can often yield greater than 6 ounces, the new misdemeanors are in direct conflict with already-established regulations and place those very growers at risk. Norml.org, an advocate for cannabis legal reform, has urged Viriginians to contact their representatives and vote ‘No’ on Gov. Youngkin’s amendment.