Virginia House Republicans on Monday blocked a proposal that would have allowed circuit judges to re-examine the sentences of individuals convicted of cannabis-only crimes, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reports. The measure rejected by the House Appropriations Committee would have asked the state to produce a study on cannabis crime resentencing; however, Republicans described the bill as a placeholder text to allow negotiations on broader reforms but rejected it anyway on a 12-10 party-line vote.
The measure would have also allowed people convicted of other felonies, and whose sentences may have been aggravated by a cannabis conviction, to petition the Virginia Parole Board for potential resentencing. Currently, there are 570 people incarcerated in Virginia on cannabis-related convictions, according to state Department of Corrections data outlined by the Times-Dispatch.
The state’s Legislature-approved adult-use cannabis law does not include resentencing provisions as Democrats in both chambers said they ran out of time to include the reforms but that they would push for such reforms this year; however, those plans were complicated when the GOP took control over the state House and governorship.
Republican Del. Terry Austin, the committee’s vice-chair, said the impact and cost of the bill were unclear. Del. Rob Bell, the highest-ranking Republican on criminal justice matters, said earlier in the session that he thought cannabis resentencing reform should accompany a broader package of cannabis legislation. Del. Carrie Coyner (R) had also introduced two bills to implement resentencing reforms, but party leaders never scheduled the bill for a hearing and she, too, voted against the plan before the committee. She said the bill had been “watered down to nothing – a study.”
“Unnecessary studies are slowing down agencies from real work,” she said in an interview with the Times-Dispatch. “Let’s work on passing the real bill next session.”
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