Almost one year since Virginia lawmakers voted to legalize recreational marijuana in the state, the fate of those currently serving time for cannabis-related offenses remains unclear.
When that bill was passed last year, resentencing provisions were omitted due to time pressures. Instead, lawmakers committed to dealing with the issue in the next legislative session.
But they’re still split on what to do. The committee of House and Senate lawmakers charged with providing recommendations for cannabis reform in Virginia – the Joint Commission on Cannabis Oversight – proposed bringing the launch of retail cannabis sales forward one year to 2023, but couldn’t agree on the question of resentencing.
There are ten people currently serving time in Virginia for trafficking five or more pounds of cannabis into the state, according to the Virginia Department of Corrections. These are the only individuals for whom the most serious offense they were convicted for is marijuana-related, and all are due to be released within six years.
There are a further 560 people in prison in Virginia where the main offense is not cannabis-related but marijuana charges played a part in their sentencing.
Democrat committee members are in favor of allowing those 560 people the opportunity to petition for resentencing, so a judge can determine whether their cannabis charge resulted in a longer sentence.
But they are divided on what to do exactly about the ten people whose most serious offense is cannabis-related.
Del. Don Scott (D), for instance, wants to pass legislation for their immediate release, while Sen. Adam Ebbin (D), would prefer legislation that allows them to petition for resentencing on the basis that trafficking five or more pounds of cannabis remains a felony offense under Virginia’s marijuana laws.
The three Republican committee members have not yet committed to a position, while Virginia’s GOP, which now holds a slight majority in the House of Delegates following incoming Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s election victory, has said little more than that it will not repeal the marijuana legalization law.
“I think whether or not you support marijuana or don’t’ support marijuana, the reality is we already have laws on the books,” said Del. Will Morefield (R). “So I think it’s only responsible Virginia fall under a very well regulated market.”
Morefield indicated the House GOP caucus has not yet decided on what to do with those serving time with cannabis convictions, while Sen. Ryan McDougle (R) said the issue is still under discussion among Senate Republicans.
Meanwhile, GOP lawmakers introduced legislation that would undermine social equity provisions included by Democrats in Virginia’s marijuana legalization bill, and afford cities and counties greater powers to prohibit legal cannabis sales in their jurisdictions.
For his part, incumbent Gov. Glenn Youngkin has been tightlipped about marijuana legalization, other than in an interview with Virginia Business where he said “When it comes to commercialization, I think there is a lot of work to be done. I’m not against it, but there’s a lot of work to be done.”