- Eli Hunt
Re-sentencing Initiatives for Virginia Marijuana Convictions
Re-sentencing initiatives in Virginia are in the news again! If you are someone with a Virginia medical marijuana card or on the lookout for a medical marijuana card, you may be interested in the wider, social implications of legalization. Cannabis has brought natural relief to much of the Commonwealth and offers the possibility of social reform as well!
Re-sentencing Efforts in the Original Legislation
When legislators first began drafting the bill that would legalize cannabis in Virginia, they made sure to include provisions that would improve the social equity and well-being of citizens in the state. The thinking was that the war on drugs had disproportionately affected minority communities in the Commonwealth— by including these provisions, legislators could take some steps towards righting these injustices.
One issue on the table was re-sentencing. Activists and democratic legislators wanted to adjust the sentences of those who had already been convicted of marijuana possession. Unfortunately, as with recreational sales, re-sentencing provisions were left for another day, with the legislature claiming it just didn’t have enough time to work through the issues.
Who Would Re-sentencing Affect?
According to the Virginia Department of Corrections, there are currently 10 individuals serving sentences in Virginia in which the most serious offense is related to marijuana. All of these people were convicted of transporting five or more pounds of the plant into the Commonwealth, and these 10 individuals should be released within six years. However, there are an additional 560 Virginians serving sentences only partly related to marijuana offenses.
Democrats on the Cannabis Oversight Committee said they support letting these 560 individuals petition for a re-sentencing hearing. In these re-sentencing hearings, a judge could decide whether their sentence is too long, given that marijuana is now legal. Democrats did not have much consensus on how to handle the 10 people serving exclusively marijuana-related sentences. Some suggested expunging their sentences entirely, while others suggested that they too receive re-sentencing hearings.
Virginia GOP Strikes Down Latest Efforts
Recently in early March, Virginia GOP legislators stopped the latest efforts by Democrats to pass re-sentencing initiatives. Democratic state Sens. Scott Surovell of Fairfax and Louise Lucas of Portsmouth introduced the bill earlier in the legislative session. The language of the bill would have allowed prisoners in state custody or on probation for marijuana felonies to request a different sentence from a circuit court judge. Since marijuana is now legal in the Commonwealth, these felons would not receive the same sentences had they been tried today.
Republicans, however, pushed back first by modifying the language and then by defeating the bill in the state senate. This is in keeping with much of the signaling that has come from the GOP in recent months. Governor Youngkin himself expressed various frustrations with marijuana legalization, and multiple other Republicans have spoken out against re-sentencing.
It seems that these social equity initiatives will remain tabled for now. Hopefully, Virginia will be able to align its sentencing practices with the law of the land at some time in the near future.
Start the Process With a Medical Marijuana Card Today!
Whatever adjustments are made to adult use and social equity initiatives, medical marijuana remains tried and true in Virginia!
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