This week, the Virginia governor proposed increasing penalties for individuals carrying more than two ounces of cannabis.
The motion is from Glenn Youngkin, a first term Republican. The proposal “comes in the form of an amendment to a bill, which will go back to the General Assembly for consideration on April 27 when lawmakers consider vetoes and amendments that the governor made before a midnight Monday deadline,” according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch.
It also comes almost a year to the date after Youngkin’s predecessor, former Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam, signed a bill into law. That law made Virginia the first southern state in the U.S. to legalize recreational cannabis for adults.
It also permitted adults in Virginia to possess up to an ounce of pot.
Youngkin’s proposed amendment was applied to a bill introduced by a Republican state senator “that requires state officials to create regulations prohibiting production and sale of retail marijuana products that depict or are in the shape of a human, animal, vehicle or fruit.” It would also “ban products containing Delta-8, a hemp-derived product sold in shops and convenience stores that users say feels similar to marijuana,” according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch.
In addition, Virginia Governor Youngkin proposed another amendment to that bill that would establish 21 as the minimum age to buy CBD products in the Commonwealth.
Liberal Leaders Oppose Amendment
Per the Times-Dispatch, the “state’s Joint Legislative Audit and Review Committee recommended in June that Virginia follow other states that have legalized small amounts of marijuana but still maintain a criminal misdemeanor charge for people who have gradually larger amounts.” However, Youngkin’s amendment has still drawn pushback from some Democrats.
L. Louise Lucas, the president pro tempore of the Virginia state Senate, took to Twitter on Wednesday to voice her opposition. She described the proposal as Youngkin’s attempt to “to recriminalize marijuana.” JM Pedini, NORML’s Development Director and the Executive Director of Virginia NORML, also criticized Youngkin over the move.
“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,” Pedini said in a statement.
As Lucas noted, Democrats still hold a majority in the Senate. Meanwhile, Republicans have regained control of the House of Delegates – and the governor’s mansion.
State of Legal Cannabis in Virginia
The new political dynamics in Virginia has somewhat muddied the outlook for the state’s marijuana law. Before he took office earlier this year, Youngkin said he “will not seek to overturn the law on personal possession.” But the matter of retail cannabis sales has exposed a rift between the two parties.
“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,” Youngkin told Virginia Business. “There are some nonstarters, including the forced unionization that’s in the current bill. There have been concerns expressed by law enforcement in how the gap in the laws can actually be enforced. Finally, there’s a real need to make sure that we aren’t promoting an anti-competitive industry. I do understand that there are preferences to make sure that all participants in the industry are qualified to do the industry well.”
“I am all for opportunities for minority-owned businesses, women-owned businesses [and] military-owned businesses,” Youngkin added in the interview. “We also have to make sure that they have the capabilities to compete and thrive in the industry. So, I think there’s work to be done. All of that will be on the table. Again, I don’t look to overturn the bill, but I think we need to make sure that it works.”