Virginia lawmakers are trying to sneak a new criminal misdemeanor into state law for possession of more than four ounces of marijuana in public.
The General Assembly meets Wednesday in special session to consider the proposal. The language on marijuana — like much of the budget agreement — followed discussions held by legislators in secret.
$500 Fine; Criminal Record; Up To 6 Months On 2nd Offense
The budget compromise is backed by House Appropriations Chairman Barry Knight, a Republican, and Senate Finance and Appropriations Chair Janet Howell, a Democrat.
It would codify into law that anyone caught in public with more than four ounces of Cannabis would be guilty of a Class 3 criminal misdemeanor. The ”offense” carries a fine of up to $500, plus a criminal record.
A second or subsequent “offense” would be a Class 2 misdemeanor, punishable by up to six months in jail and a fine of up to $1,000.
Possession of anything above an ounce and up to a pound is currently punishable only by a $25 civil infraction. Possession of more than a pound is a felony.
But the state’s Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission recommended a year ago that Virginia follow the lead of other states. They want to create a criminal misdemeanor for people with what the state government claims is too much Cannabis.
“Please Stop Finding More Ways To Criminalize Virginians”
Chelsea Higgs Wise, executive director of the group Marijuana Justice Virginia blasted the proposal in an email sent to Sen. Howell on Sunday evening.
“Please stop finding more ways to criminalize Virginians,” Higgs Wise wrote. She added, “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 wrote.
In 2021, the Democratic-controlled General Assembly legalized adult possession of up to an ounce of marijuana for personal adult use.
“We’re Going To Hand Out Criminal Records For Marijuana Again?”
Fairfax County Commonwealth Attorney Steve Descano also slammed the proposal, reports 7News.
“Wouldn’t pass a bill I helped write outlawing guns with the serial number scratched off. But we’re going to hand out criminal records for marijuana again?” Descano said on Twitter. ”Totally the right way to improve community safety and end racial disparities in the justice system.”
Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s office to declined comment on where the governor stands on the marijuana proposal. Last month, lawmakers failed to pass Youngkin’s own budget proposal, which also included re-criminalization of more than four ounces.