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Virginia’s New Pot Crimes Face Skeptical Senate Democrats

GOP Governor Glenn Youngkin wants to create new marijuana crimes in Virginia, where pot is supposed to be legal.

Jonathan Ernst / Reuters

Republican Governor Glenn Youngkin wants to create new marijuana crimes in Virginia. Marijuana is “legal” there, or at least it’s supposed to be. So he’s encountering strong opposition, reports Virginia Public Media.

A Democrat in the Virginia Senate says his caucus has the votes to reject a proposal from Youngkin to create two new crimes for Cannabis possession when the Legislature meets on Wednesday.

The conservative governor wants to create two new misdemeanor crimes for possessing between two ounces and a pound of weed. Under a loosened marijuana law passed last year — in response to legalization — the current penalty is a $25 civil fine.

“There’s Not A Member That’s Supportive”

Sen. Jeremy McPike (D-Prince William) said the Democrats, who narrowly control the Senate, discussed Youngkin’s proposal. And they definitely didn’t like what they saw.

“There’s not a member that’s supportive of what’s proposed in this governor’s substitute,” he said.

But idea of new criminal marijuana penalties has won some Republican legislative support.

“An Important Amendment For Law Enforcement”??

Last year, the Legislature’s research wing, the Joint Legislative Audit & Review Commission, noted law jumps from a civil fine to a felony for possession. It said other states had intermediate misdemeanors in that range and recommended Virginia add one.

Youngkin’s modeled his recommendations on JLARC’s findings, said spokesperson Macaulay Porter.

“To clarify where certain levels of marijuana possession would be penalized and at what level –  that was a very important amendment for law enforcement,” Youngkin claimed.

Yeah, we just bet it’s ”important” for police. Pot-hating Virginia cops are undoubtedly relishing the prospect of again becoming able to jail people for weed possession.

Up To A Year In Prison?!

Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria) included a new penalty as part of a broader proposal on cannabis retail sales earlier this year. That bill failed to clear the GOP-controlled House But it would have added a new misdemeanor crime for possessing between four ounces and one pound of marijuana. The bill includes a maximum penalty for repeated offenses of up to six months in jail.

Youngkin’s proposal goes farther. It includes a maximum penalty of up to a year in prison. It appeared to be a nonstarter for Democrats and marijuana advocacy groups.

“These two new misdemeanors would make the law more punitive today than it was back in 2020,” said JM Pedini, executive director of Virginia NORML.

Democrats Scaled Down Penalties For Possession In 2020

In 2020, Democrats used their majority in the General Assembly to pass a law scaling down penalties for marijuana possession to a $25 civil fine.

The previous penalty was up to 30 days in jail and a $500 fine. But greater quantities often resulted in stricter felony penalties, AKA ”intent to distribute.”

The specter of entirely new penalties has briefly united a normally quarrelsome variety of Cannabis advocacy groups.

Jason Amatucci, executive director of the Virginia Hemp Association, called Youngkin’s changes a “nightmare.” And Chelsea Higgs Wise, executive director of Marijuana Justice, said the new crimes would “do nothing but target young Black and brown people in Virginia.” wise mentioned cascading effects of the law upon evictions, student loan repayment and deportations.

Bill Originally Had A Narrower Purpose

The bill, from Republican Sen. Emmet Hanger, originally had a narrow purpose. It restricted the sale of marijuana products in shapes that might tempt kids, such as animals.

The bill then gradually morphed to include a prohibition on hemp-derived products that can get consumers high. The products contain legal variants of THC, avoiding prohibition by substituting Delta-8 and Delta-10 for Delta-9 THC.

Youngkin’s changes would limit the sale of Delta-8 but include loopholes that would allow similar products, like Delta-10 or Delta-11, to flourish, according to Pedini. The amendment limits “total tetrahydrocannabinol concentration” to 0.3%.

Lawmakers will take up Youngkin’s bill as part of a broader reconvened session slated for Wednesday. They’ll take votes on changes the governor made to 115 of pieces of legislation as well as 26 vetoes he made.

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