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Opinion/Editorial: Marijuana legislation has gaps

Opinion/Editorial: Marijuana legislation has gaps

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This is what happens when laws are rushed through, as the General Assembly did this year while installing more progressive policies.

Details are missed, unintended consequences are overlooked.

The Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission, the legislature’s research arm, has identified at least one such omission.

Starting July 1, adults 21 and up legally can possess up to an ounce of leafy marijuana. But the new decriminalization law failed to address other forms of marijuana.

Also on July 1, a new state agency will begin regulating marijuana under the new law. Its creation also has been something of a rushed job.

Meanwhile, come July 1, neither regulators nor consumers will know what to do about edible marijuana or vaping oils that contain the drug.

JLARC is urging rapid clarification on those points.

It’s ironic: Speed of adoption probably contributed to legislators failing to identify this oversight; speed is now the recommended remedy to limit the limbo time during which uncertainty will reign.

JLARC suggests that within its first few weeks of operation, the new agency issue an emergency regulation setting “equivalency” limits on marijuana products, analyst Mark Gribbin said in the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

Those weren’t the only recommendations from JLARC.

The General Assembly still needs to pass legislation regulating markets, which involve such issues as a fair treatment of necessary medical marijuana vs. mere recreational marijuana.

Simple possession of an ounce will be legal come July 1 — but sales of marijuana will not. That reform won’t kick in until 2024.

We can envision much confusion among consumers over this point. Many probably will assume small sales are legal, too; after all, how many of us laymen and women actually read the fine print of legislation?

And Gribbin says Virginia’s penalties for violating the new law are not balanced. The law’s punishments jump from a civil fine for possession of over one ounce to a felony charge for possession of one pound or more. JLARC recommends adding a misdemeanor charge between those two levels for possession of smaller amounts of marijuana.

Since an ounce can yield anything from nine to 14 joints, according to the Times-Dispatch, then a pound would be a substantial stash potentially creating hundreds of joints. A cautious approach would seem warranted as we ease into this new environment.

It’s important that Virginia’s new regulatory agency hit the ground running, and be able to answer these and other questions.

The commonwealth is treading new territory, and there are many potential stumbling blocks littering the path. Virginians must be able to look to their leaders for guidance.

Editor's Note: The editorial was corrected on June 22 to clarify the nature of one of the recommendations from the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission.

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