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How watchdog says Virginia should change marijuana laws before July 1

Veterans Medical Marijuana
Posted at 6:56 PM, Jun 16, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-30 15:56:42-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- A state watchdog group informed lawmakers earlier this month what additional steps and revisions Virginia should take before simple possession of marijuana is legalized on July 1.

The state’s Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission (JLARC) evaluated the cannabis laws that were passed as Governor Ralph Northam’s omnibus bill.

According to the group, the law currently states that you can carry an ounce of marijuana your person in public on July 1.

Anything less than a pound would be considered a civil offense with a $25 fine. That charge skyrockets to a felony for someone found carrying a pound or more of marijuana.

Mark Gribbin, JLARC’s chief legislative analyst, compared those charges to other states that have legalized simple possession.

“All other states have a misdemeanor charge for possession and those typically kick in at much lower possession amounts ranging from 1 to 2 and a half ounces,” Gribbin explained. “An ounce is typically enough to last all but the heaviest users several weeks. So, 16 ounces is a substantial amount for someone to carry around.”

State Sen. Tommy Norment (R - James City) criticized the bill and the rush to legalize the drug.

“I thought this was one of the worst drafted pieces of legislation of my legislative career,” Norment said.

Del. Charniele Herring (D - Alexandria) responded that she could think of “worse” legislation than the marijuana bill.

“This is a significant change and when we are reaching for equity and reaching for restorative justice, it’s not perfect,” she said. “But, we are moving into a direction where we can meet perfection.”

Gov. Northam told CBS 6 that people of color are arrested and convicted for drug possession three times the higher rate of other communities. On July 1, the state will erase prior marijuana offenses from criminal records.

“The most important thing about legalizing marijuana is an equity issue,” Northam explained. “That’s why we took the important step to make this legal on July 1 of this year rather than wait until 2024.”

Del. Herring told the group that they cannot be blind about the impact that the “failed war on drugs” has had on Black communities.

“When you have a conviction on your record, it’s more difficult to get a job,” Herring said. “It’s difficult to get money to start a business. So, there is an impact on family members.”

JLARC found that the legal limit amount of cannabis found in edibles or vaping oils is still unclear when compared to the possession of the leafy plant.

Another issue that JLARC presented surrounds the state’s Virginia Cannabis Control Authority that won’t be established until July 1. They feared that it would take weeks for emergency changes to the law to go into effect.

Gov. Northam said his administration will work quickly to tie up loose ends regarding issues with the law.