Thursday, November 30, 2023

Canna-bust: Gov. Youngkin Proposes New Penalties for Marijuana Possession, Changes to CBD Retail

The Youngkin administration wants to crack down on the legal use of marijuana. (Courtesy of Unsplash)

STATEWIDE — It has been less than a year since Virginia became the first state in the south to legalize marijuana.

On July 1, 2021, it became legal in Virginia for adults 21 years and older to possess up to an ounce of marijuana. It also became legal for Virginians in the same age bracket to grow up to four marijuana plants per home. 

Currently, penalties for individuals caught in possession of between one ounce to one pound is a $25 civil fine. Anything more than one pound is considered a felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000.

However, Gov. Glenn Youngkin has proposed an amendment that would increase the penalty for personal possession of more than two ounces of marijuana.

Youngkin’s proposal would be substituted for SB 591 and would consider such possession a Class 2 misdemeanor for personal possession of more than two ounces and a Class 1 misdemeanor for more than six ounces and up to a pound.

Youngkin’s proposal follows a recommendation made by the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission (JLARC), the Virginia General Assembly’s “watchdog” agency, which suggested that lawmakers add a misdemeanor charge before it becomes a felony charge. 

The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) has released a statement in opposition to Youngkin’s proposal.

“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, development director for NORML and executive director of Virginia NORML.

In addition, Youngkin’s administration wants to ban the retail sale of Delta 8 THC products and also proposed limiting the sales of CBD products for consumers who are 21 years and older.

“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.

Lawmakers will vote on Youngkin’s proposed amendment on April 27.

In Nov. 2021, the City of Williamsburg addressed the sale of medical cannabis, the retail sale of cannabis, and cannabis products or extracts.

The city’s ordinance code was written that if something is not listed in an ordinance then it’s not permitted. This was the reason why the city council decided to amend a zoning ordinance for the city’s Economic Development District (ED).

The City of Williamsburg voted in favor of PCR#21-010: A Zoning Text Amendment to amend Article III. District Regulations, Division 10.1 Economic Development District ED*, Section 21-362, to allow medical cannabis dispensaries licensed by the Commonwealth of Virginia.

In other words, PCR#21-010 was a request to amend a zoning ordinance to allow medical dispensaries licensed by the Commonwealth of Virginia pursuant to the Virginia Code in the Economic Development District (ED), and to amend the supplemental district regulations to address the retail sale of Cannabis and Cannabis products or extracts.

The ED contains Riverside Hospital, an apartment complex, and multi-family houses.

Prior to the vote, it was recommended that these medical dispensaries be located near the hospitals since the cannabis is classified as “medical cannabis,” and “medical cannabis products.” This means that customers and users of the dispensaries are required to have a medical prescription before the purchase of the cannabis.

At the time of the vote to amend the ordinance, there were four medical dispensary licenses issued by the state of Virginia. All medical dispensaries that end up in the city are required to be licensed by the state and must follow all state regulations.

At the time of the vote, the Williamsburg City Council made it clear that this zoning amendment does not include the retail sale of recreational cannabis within the city limits.

James City and York counties have not made any decisions regarding the sale of medical cannabis, the retail sale of cannabis, nor on cannabis products/extracts.

As Virginia makes its way through another 4/20, a date synonymous with cannabis use, the state continues to weigh in on what kind of restrictions and penalties will be related to the sale and use of recreational cannabis products.

It is unlikely that the recreational sale of cannabis will come to James City and York counties and the City of Williamsburg any time soon.

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