New Marijuana Crime Included in Virginia Budget Proposal | Virginia News

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Virginia legislative leaders are proposing a new criminal offense in state law for possessing more than four ounces of marijuana in public.

The Richmond Times-Dispatch reports that the proposal is included in a new two-year state budget plan, which became publicly available online Sunday evening. The General Assembly will meet in extraordinary session on Wednesday to consider the budget. The marijuana language — like much of the budget deal — followed discussions that did not take place in public.

The budget compromise backed by House Appropriations Chairman Barry Knight, a Republican, and Senate Finance and Appropriations Chairman Janet Howell, a Democrat, would write into law that anyone caught in public with more than four ounces of marijuana would be guilty of a class 3 felony misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $500, plus a criminal record.

A second or subsequent offense would be a class 2 misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail and a fine of up to $1,000.

Chelsea Higgs Wise, executive director of the Virginia Marijuana Justice Group, along with heads of other organizations, lambasted the proposal in an email sent to Howell on Sunday evening.

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“Please stop finding other ways to criminalize Virginians,” she wrote, adding, “Let’s work to right the wrongs of the failed and destructive ban.”

“Virginia officials must not allow the budget document to become a legislative workaround to enforce the will of the administration to the exclusion of the voice and will of the people,” Higgs Wise wrote.

In 2021, the Democrat-controlled General Assembly legalized adult possession of up to one ounce of marijuana for personal use. Possession of anything over an ounce and up to a pound is only punishable by a $25 civil offense, while possession of more than a pound is a felony.

But the state’s Joint Audit and Legislative Review Commission has recommended that Virginia follow the lead of other states and create a criminal offense for people in possession of what the state government considers too much marijuana.

Efforts to add new criminal penalties for marijuana to state law have already failed twice this year.

During the regular session of the General Assembly, a bill by Senator Adam Ebbin would have largely governed new retail marijuana sales in Virginia and also created a new criminal offense. The bill failed in the GOP-controlled house.

In April, GOP Governor Glenn Youngkin proposed amendments to a hemp industry bill that would have established new criminal penalties for people in possession of more than two ounces of marijuana. Opponents said the proposal pushed the state back toward racially biased policing. The General Assembly did not adopt the Governor’s proposal.

While the budget typically presents state spending, the legislature has the power to propose policy in the budget, as Knight and Howell do with the marijuana penalty. Asked about the supposed plan during an interview on Thursday, the two declined to discuss marijuana.

The budget deal proposed by General Assembly negotiators last week would cut taxes by $4 billion over three years and raise the salaries of state employees and teachers by 10% over two years.

The proposed tax cuts include one-time rebates of $250 for individual taxpayers and $500 for families this year, a 78% increase in the standard deduction on state income taxes and a tax credit. refundable tax for low-income working families, reported the Times-Dispatch. .

But it does not include some of the tax cuts proposed by Youngkin, including a three-month suspension of the state gasoline tax. This includes repealing the 1.5% state portion of the grocery tax, but not the 1% local option sales tax on groceries.

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