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VA Governor Youngkin Wants Increased Penalties For Weed

Virginia legalized marijuana this year. But some politicians, including Governor Glenn Youngkin, don’t get the message.

The Guardian

Virginia legalized marijuana this year. But some state politicians seem have trouble getting the message. Governor Glenn Youngkin, a Republican, amended a bill affecting what Cannabis products can be sold in Virginia, reports WRIC. And Youngkin’s changes establish new misdemeanor penalties for marijuana possession. 

It’s the first time Youngkin is taking a formal stance in some thorny debates. Unfortunately, the stance he’s taking means more punishments under adult-use marijuana “legalization” and reining in the hemp industry for good measure.

“We protected Virginians from potentially harmful synthetically-modified substances while preserving the market for regulated CBD products currently available,” Youngkin claimed. Youngkin released his self-serving statement Monday night. “I call on the General Assembly to adopt these changes and quickly enact them into law so that they can benefit all residents of the Commonwealth.”

Changes Would Add New Penalties For Marijuana

Youngkin’s changes would add new misdemeanor penalties for adult marijuana possession of more than two ounces. Youngkin’s office said the amended bill lays out the following graduated punishments for public possession, not private possession. 

  • More than one ounce to two ounces: $25 dollar fine 
  • Two ounces to six ounces: Class two misdemeanor
  • Six ounces to one pound (sixteen ounces): Class one misdemeanor  
  • More than one pound: Felony with a maximum punishment of ten years in prison and $250,000 fine

Current state law sets a $25 fine for public possession between more than one ounce and one pound. The felony punishment kicks in after that. 

The nonpartisan but apparently weed-phobic Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission recommended Youngkin’s harsher punishments last year. JLARC Project Lead Mark Gribbin said this would “put Virginia more in line with other states. “

Bill Remains Overly Restrictive

The bill remains overly restrictive and will reactivate The War on Weed in Virginia, according to activists.

Youngkin’s office had not posted his amendments online as of Tuesday afternoon. That left troublesome ambiguity over exactly what his administration plans.

Macaulay Porter, a Youngkin spokesperson, said the amendments give a board within the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services the authority to set THC limits.

Initially Aimed At Edibles

The original bill by GOP Senator Emmett Hanger banned edibles in certain shapes and colors that attract children. 

Youngkin also wants to set age restrictions for CBD, potentially prohibiting sales to those under 21 for the first time. Some stores are already doing that on their own. 

Controversially, Youngkin is also green-lighting the push to crack down on the hemp-derived compound Delta-8. The bill bans retail Delta-8 sales in Virginia, at least for now.

“Changing The Rules Halfway Through The Game”

American Healthy Alternatives Association President JD McCormick said lawmakers should’ve focused on passing stricter safety standards. McCormick said lab testing, child-resistant packaging, and regulating marketing is a better approach than restricting access to products allowed under federal law.

He said the Virginia chapter of AHAA advocated for these. And they’re now urging lawmakers to reject Youngkin’s amendments. 

“The Commonwealth of Virginia is banning the sale of these products and changing the rules halfway through the game,” McCormick said. “Many of these small businesses and farmers have invested hundreds of millions of dollars in these products. And the administration is now taking them away from them and giving them over to these giant, multinational corporations.”

Activists Push Back Against Youngkin’s Crackdown

Hemp advocates and civil rights activists pushed back Tuesday against Youngkin’s crackdown. They say it’s an assault on farmers and businesses, flashing back to the decades-old and fruitless “War on Drugs.”

Youngkin, just three months into the job, also proposed amendments to the bill to set the minimum age at 21 for buying CBD products.

The amended bill would also ban Delta-8 products starting in October.

Vote Set For April 27

The Virginia General Assembly can pass the bill with the amendments with a majority vote. Or it can pass the original bill into law with a two-thirds vote in the House of Delegates and Virginia Senate.

If lawmakers reject Youngkin’s changes without a two-thirds majority, Youngkin could veto the bill or sign it into law. They’ll vote on it on April 27.

During this year’s General Assembly session, Virginia Democrats proposed legislation to speed up recreational marijuana sales in Virginia but House Republicans rejected the effort.

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