New marijuana penalty unlikely, Virginia lawmakers say | Govt-and-politics

Harris said that a criminal penalty, compared with a civil penalty, could have “drastically different implications” for Virginians, including a notch on someone’s criminal record and difficulty obtaining housing and federal education aid.

Del. Don Scott, D-Portsmouth, who sits on the oversight panel, said he is opposed to the proposed new misdemeanor charge simply because he doesn’t trust that the stricter penalty would be enforced fairly.

“Based on all of the research we have, we know these crimes are disproportionately applied to Black people,” Scott said in an interview. “If I knew it would be applied fairly, maybe I would say, that could be OK.”

“I would be surprised if it happened,” Scott added on the prospects of the JLARC proposal.

Sen. Adam Ebbin, D-Alexandria, who chairs the new cannabis panel, said similarly that the proposal might not get traction from the panel.

“I understand the logic of having an intermediate penalty,” Ebbin said. “I haven’t come to a final conclusion yet, but I’m not sure there is support to create a new crime.”

Ebbin said he would consider increasing the civil fine after a certain threshold as a way to create a “step” between the $25 fine and the felony charge.

A spokesperson for Majority Leader Charniele Herring of Alexandria, the highest-ranking House Democrat on the oversight panel, and its vice chair, said the lawmaker was unavailable for comment. Del. Rob Bell, R-Albemarle, a key House Republican on criminal justice issues, also could not be reached for comment.

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