The governor of Virginia wants to recriminalize possession of certain amounts of cannabis in the state by way of a proposed amendment to a bill passed by the General Assembly.
The measure – SB 591 – would modify the definition of marijuana to include any substance containing more than 0.3 percent THC or more than 0.25 milligrams of THC per serving. The amendment to this bill proposed by Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) would create two new misdemeanor offenses for cannabis possession.
Under Virginia’s reformed marijuana laws, possession of up to one ounce of cannabis is legal but more than one ounce is subject to a civil fine of $25. This represents the most lenient sanction applied to marijuana possession over the legally-prescribed amount among states that have legalized cannabis.
Youngkin wants possession of more than two ounces to be a Class 2 misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail and a maximum fine of $1,000, while possession of more than six ounces would be a Class 1 misdemeanor subject to 12 months in jail and a maximum fine of $2,500.
The move closely follows a House committee vote to strike down a Senate-approved bill to expedite legal cannabis sales in Virginia to September, 2022. Under the legalization bill signed into law by former-Gov. Ralph Northam, legal cannabis sales are not due to start in Virginia until 2024.
Executive director of Virginia NORML, JM Pedini, reacted to the governor’s proposal by urging lawmakers and the executive to instead focus on expediting a legal marijuana market rather than pursuing yet more cannabis criminalization.
“Instead of creating new ways to criminalize Virginians for personal possession of cannabis, Governor Youngkin’s administration would better serve his constituents by establishing a legal adult-use marijuana market and ensuring that all cannabis products sold in the Commonwealth are accurately labeled and regulated for consumer safety,” said JM Pedini.
As well as reintroducing criminal sanctions for cannabis possession in Virginia, Youngkin’s amendment would prohibit all sales of delta 8 THC and the sale of hemp products containing THC to minors. Possession and sales of THC-O and THC-P, two other cannabinoids, would also be illegal.
“The proposed amendments not only undermine the original consumer safety objectives of SB 591, but codify loopholes for synthetic marijuana and high-THC products to be sold at retail and wholesale outside of the strict regulatory oversight currently required for legal cannabis products produced in Virginia,” Pedini added.
Gov. Youngkin did, however, recently sign off on legislation to expand access to Virginia’s medical marijuana program. From July 1, 2022, the new legislation removes the need for patients with a written recommendation for the treatment from a physician to register with the Board of Pharmacy before they can obtain medical cannabis. Virginia currently has around 47,000 registered medical marijuana patients, with another 8,000 seeking approval.