Youngkin Wants Amendments to Hemp, Facial Recognition Bills

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Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin has proposed substantial changes to a hemp bill aimed at reining in the retail sales of products containing a psychoactive form of THC, including amendments that would create new misdemeanor penalties for marijuana possession.

The bill is among more than 100 pieces of legislation the Republican governor is seeking to amend, his office announced late Monday, just ahead of a deadline Youngkin faced to take action on bills sent to his desk. Of the 841 measures the divided General Assembly passed, the governor signed about 700 and vetoed 26.

Lawmakers will meet April 27 to consider the governor's proposed amendments and will also have the chance to override his vetoes, a move that would require a 2/3 vote in each chamber.

The hemp measure rewrote the definition of marijuana in state code in a way industry players said would have severely curtailed the sale of CBD products that don't produce a high, in addition to ending the retail sales of delta-8, a chemical cousin of pot’s main intoxicating ingredient, sales of which have proliferated around the country.

Youngkin's amendments, which both chambers would have to approve, would prohibit the retail sale of products containing synthetic delta-8 as of Oct. 1, according to an overview his office provided. But it is intended to preserve the market for regulated CBD products currently available, Youngkin said in a statement.

Youngkin's amendments would also create a Class 2 misdemeanor offense for possession of more than 2 and less than 6 ounces of marijuana and a Class 1 misdemeanor for possession of more than 6 ounces and less than 1 pound.

A 2021 law passed when Democrats were in full control of state government laid out a yearslong pathway toward retail sales and legalized the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana. Anyone possessing an amount between an ounce and a pound is currently subject to a small civil fine.


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The creation of a misdemeanor offense was a recommendation of the legislature's watchdog agency, which said last year that the state's approach to possession was out of line with other states where marijuana is legal, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported.

Youngkin is also seeking amendments to another controversial bill that would lift a ban enacted only a year ago on the use of facial recognition technology by most police agencies.

The measure passed in March with an unusual bipartisan coalition of support after appearing to teeter on the brink of death for several days.

The amended version of the bill would “require additional training and establish the Virginia State Police as a resource for local law enforcement who need to utilize the technology,” Youngkin's office said.

With his proposed amendments, Youngkin also took aim at Loudoun County Public Schools, which have drawn outsize attention for controversies over curriculum debates, COVID-19 policies and the district's handling of two sex assaults.

The governor's proposed amendments to a Democratic legislator's bill that dealt with the staggering of school board terms would force the entire board to face election this fall.

Youngkin said in a statement that the proposed changes would provide “accountability and transparency in education.”

A district spokesman didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

As for the 700 bills Youngkin approved, all bipartisan thanks to the split control of the General Assembly, Youngkin said he was “honored” to sign them.

Among the bills he signed were:

— a campaign finance oversight measure that would implement reviews of campaign committee financial records by the Department of Elections;

— a Freedom of Information Act measure that would undo a recent reform intended to expand public access to certain law enforcement files in closed criminal investigations;

— legislation that toughens the penalty for stealing catalytic converters;

— a measure banning racial discrimination at Virginia's highly regarded Governor's Schools;

— legislation intended to crack down on unsolicited sexually explicit pictures and videos;

— a measure allowing small localities to opt out of a 2020 law that called for the establishment of statewide teams of behavioral health workers to respond to people experiencing mental health crises.

In addition to considering the governor's amendments and vetoes, lawmakers still have plenty of work to finish from their regular session, which they adjourned in mid-March because the Democrat-controlled Senate and GOP-controlled House were unable to reach agreement on a state budget.

Lawmakers kicked off a special session April 4 but met only briefly before going home again because negotiators had made no substantial progress toward an agreement during their break.

Also left undone were dozens of bills carried over from the regular session. It wasn’t clear Tuesday when lawmakers would be meeting to take up that unfinished business.


Associated Press writer Denise Lavoie contributed to this report.

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