Virginia lawmakers approved a proposed state budget last week. By doing so, they agreed on more than just finances. Among the details are stricter marijuana regulations.
Since July 2021, individuals in Virginia who are at least 21 have been allowed to possess up to one ounce of weed for personal use. Anyone caught possessing over an ounce but less than a pound can be hit with a $25 civil penalty. If caught with more than a pound, a person can be charged with a felony, face up to 10 years in prison and get a $250,000 fine.
Last week’s proposed budget, lowers the bar making it a misdemeanor to carry over four ounces but less than a pound. A person’s first offense violating these new possession regulations would be a Class 3 misdemeanor, which carries a fine up to $500. The second offense would be a Class 2 misdemeanor with a punishment of up to six months in jail and a fine up to $1,000.
These proposed regulations do not apply to the amount of marijuana stored at home.
Bipartisan agreement or shady move?
This is not the first attempt this year to create new weed penalties. Senator Adam Ebbin introduced a bill during the General Assembly’s regular session that attempted to add a new marijuana misdemeanor to the books, but the measure failed in the House.
However, this budget compromise containing stricter marijuana regulations is reportedly backed by House Appropriations Chairman Barry Knight, a Republican, and Senate Finance and Appropriations Chair Janet Howell, a Democrat. And Knight made it appear as if the contents were agreeable to both parties.
“Everything had to be a compromise. Just very, very bipartisan, very amicable. We’re not Washington, we’re Richmond,” he said in a video posted by 13 News Now.
But the marijuana proposal and the method used to get it onto the books aren’t digesting well for everyone.
“There’re a couple of places where we legislate in the budget, and we’ve done that before, but I think it’s pretty rare that we create new crimes in the budget,” Senator Jennifer McClellan said on the Virginia Senate floor, according to ABC 8 News report.
These new criminal penalties were decided by a handful of people and “did not go through a full process,” McClellan also stated. That there “was no real opportunity for public input is concerning,” she added.
Others in the state Senate and House also spoke out against the new criminal penalties for marijuana, pointing to a lack of public input from those disproportionately impacted by enforcement policies, ABC 8 News also reported.
Plus, organizations are also speaking out against the penalties.
“Some politicians are using the budget process to sneak in new criminal penalties for marijuana,” the ACLU of Virginia tweeted.
“VA 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,” Chelsea Higgs Wise, executive director of Marijuana Justice Virginia also said on Twitter.
In the governor’s hands
The budget proposal is expected to hit Governor Glenn Youngkin’s desk this week. He will then have the option to approve, veto, or offer amendments to what’s presented.
Those who support the proposed new marijuana penalties have far more reason to be optimistic than the opponents because Youngkin is for tighter restrictions. In April, he tried to make it a misdemeanor to possess over two ounces in an amendment to a marijuana bill introduced by Senator Emmett Hangar. But that legislation was left in committee.