In budget language unveiled Sunday, Virginia legislative leaders would create a new criminal misdemeanor for possession of more than four ounces of cannabis, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reports. It is the third time this year that state lawmakers have considered creating new laws for cannabis possession despite passing a legalization bill in April 2021.
The budget compromise is backed by House Appropriations Chairman Barry Knight (R) and Senate Finance and Appropriations Chair Janet Howell (D). The amendment would create a new law criminalizing public cannabis possession of more than four ounces and charge them with a class three criminal misdemeanor and potential fines up to $500. Second or subsequent offenses would be a class two misdemeanor, punishable by up to six months in jail and a fine of up to $1,000, the report says.
The state’s legalization law allows for possession of up to an ounce for personal use and the home cultivation of up to four plants. Possession of anything more than an ounce up to a pound is punishable by a $25 civil penalty, with possession of more than a pound being a felony.
In an email sent to lawmakers on Sunday, Chelsea Higgs Wise, executive director of the group Marijuana Justice Virginia, urged lawmakers to “stop finding more ways to criminalize Virginians.”
“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,” she wrote in the letter, according to the Times-Dispatch.
Legalization is opposed by Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin, who was elected after the reform bill was approved but before the industry was set up. He supported legislation to create new crimes for cannabis possession but they were not enacted by the Legislature.
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