The Republican-led Virginia House Appropriations Committee shot down legislation March 7 that would have allowed those incarcerated or on probation for cannabis-related crimes to apply for resentencing, according to the Associated Press.
The bill, sponsored by Democratic Sen. Scott Surovell, would have allowed 596 people incarcerated for cannabis-related felonies to apply for resentencing by the court that sentenced them, the news outlet reported. The legislation would have also permitted another 78 people who had their sentences for other crimes enhanced because of a previous cannabis-related convictions to apply to the Virginia Parole Board for resentencing.
The bill was defeated in a party-line vote, AP reported, with 12 Republicans in opposition and 10 Democrats supporting it.
Surovell told committee members that many of those imprisoned for cannabis-related crimes likely would not have received those sentences today, now that Virginia has legalized adult-use cannabis.
Former Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam signed an adult-use cannabis legalization bill into law in April 2021, with personal possession and home grow measures taking effect July 1, 2021.
The path to a commercial adult-use market became less clear when incoming Gov. Glenn Youngkin took office in January, and legislation that would have allowed retail sales to launch later this year stalled last week in the House.
Republican Del. Terry Austin, vice chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, said he opposed Surovell’s resentencing bill because its total costs and impact were unclear, according to AP, but Surovell said he believes Republicans defeated the legislation so they could use it as a bargaining chip when the bill to implement adult-use sales resurfaces next year.
“This [bill] has absolutely nothing to do with retail sales, so it’s really disappointing to me that 600 people’s lives are in the balance, 600 people’s freedom is in the balance, and we are going to use that as a bargaining chip,” Surovell told AP, adding that he plans to reintroduce the bill in 2023.