Legal Review: Will Virginia Legalize Marijuana?

Virginia is set to legalize marijuana usage on July 1, 2021, but will continue to keep marijuana production and sale illegal until 2023. Many State Democrats are speaking out against this apparent disparity.

The current argument is that a regulated market needs to be established with clear laws and regulations outlining how marijuana will be treated as a legal drug. However, many are still concerned about what this means for communities of color and how this contradictory law could lead to further racial discrimination.

What Does the Law Say?

To better understand why dissenters are concerned, let us look at what the law itself proposes. Marijuana use will be legalized starting on July 1, 2021. However, it will still be illegal to grow, sell, or distribute products containing marijuana until a regulated market is established in 2023.

Until then, civil penalties will still be in place. Possession of one ounce of marijuana or greater could lead to a fine ranging from $250 to $250,000. In extreme cases, an offender can be sentenced to up to 10 years in prison. The criminal penalty amount originally proposed was five pounds of marijuana but has since been reduced to one.

Although criminal punishment is still on the table for marijuana possession, Virginia lawmakers are currently designing a plan that would regulate marijuana as a legal drug. All criminal records featuring marijuana-based penalties will be cleared of those crimes. They also plan to remove the law where any lawmaker convicted of a marijuana-related offense must be removed from office.

When marijuana is bought legally, though it is unclear how to do so, the State gets a cut of the profits through taxes. All marijuana sales would have a 30 percent tax, with 21 percent being a state excise tax and up to 3 percent going to localities.

The Issues

It is clear that there are already some structuring issues regarding how this bill has been proposed. For starters, what is the purpose of legalizing the use of a drug without also legalizing its production? This is the main argument of State Senator Richard Stuart, a Republican representative from Stafford County who referred to it as  “ludicrous.”

State Senator Jennifer McClellan, a Democratic representative from Richmond County, argues that enforcing soon-to-be-ending prohibition laws against the drug only hurts the citizenry. Essentially, if they have truly decided that this is an action that should not be criminalized, then why continue punishing people for it?

There is also the issue of the amount of marijuana that must be in possession for a criminal penalty. Though five pounds in possession was the original proposition, Delegate Terry Kilgore from Scott County argued that such a high amount could lead to people selling marijuana without a license. Majority Leader Charniele Herring, a Democrat from Alexandria County, agreed with Kilgore after seeing a photo of five pounds of marijuana.

However, the most significant concern seems to be how this could impact lower-income communities of color. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is wary of the proposed marijuana legislation for this reason. They argue that there are unintended consequences to contradictory legislation like this and that those contradictions will hurt black and brown communities disproportionately.

Virginia lawmakers are working with Richmond Criminal Lawyers to negotiate elements of the new proposed legislation. There is no telling how this proposed marijuana law could impact lower-income communities of color if there is no correction. It has yet to be seen if the timeline for a regulated market will be pushed sooner to correct for the disparity.

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