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Marijuana reform dies, leaving some penalties in place and dashing hopes for early legal sales

marijuana plant
A marijuana plant grows at gLeaf's facility in Richmond's Southside. (Photo: Alex Scribner/VPM News)

Republicans in Virginia’s House of Delegates have extinguished efforts to reform marijuana laws this year. The inaction leaves some penalties in place and derails plans for early legal sales.

Virginians will have to keep waiting to find out how the state will roll out a legal cannabis marketplace.  Until then, adults 21 and older can still carry up to an ounce of marijuana, but there’s nowhere to legally buy it without a medical license. 

JM Pedini with Virginia NORML says there are other problems too.

“Because the bill failed to reenact the bill as required by the 2021 version, a number of marijuana crimes… will be reinstated and any crimes without specified penalties will be class 6 felonies,” they said.

A slew of marijuana-related penalties will remain in place, including a felony for possession with intent to distribute and a 2-year mandatory minimum sentence for selling to a minor.

State Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria) provided a document to compare existing penalties with the changes his bill would have made.

The bill would have added a misdemeanor penalty, however, for possession of between four ounces and a pound.  It remains a felony to possess more than a pound of marijuana, and the penalty for possessing between one ounce and one pound stays a $25 civil fine.

A house committee voted 5-3 along party lines to delay action on the bill to next year.

After the Democrat-controlled General Assembly voted to legalize simple possession of marijuana last year, GOP leaders said they were eager to get a regulatory framework in place to avoid the proliferation of unregulated sales.  

"There's all kinds of mess that they've created there,” Speaker of the House Todd Gilbert (R-Shenandoah) told reporters in November. “They didn't do it the right way, if there is a right way to do it. We're gonna have to fix all that. And we're gonna have to work with a Democrat Senate to fix all that. "

Garren Shipley, a spokesperson for Gilbert, reiterated the speaker’s comments when asked Monday why the plan fell apart.

“The legislation from last year was such a mess that it was a terrible foundation upon which to build, and there just wasn’t enough time left to do it right,” he said.

The House also failed to act on any of its own legislation addressing marijuana regulation this session.