Virginia Gov. John N. Dalton said thday he "will take a good hard look" at a bill relaxing marijuana penalties before deciding whether to sign it.
The General Assembly approved legislation on Feb. 24 that would reduce the maximum penalty for first possession of marijuana for personal use to 30 days in jail and a $500 fine. The current maximum is one year in jail and a $1,000 fine.
Dalton declined to say at a news conference what provisions of the bill concern him. However,his press secretary, William A. Royall, said recently that Dalton is worried about language in the legislation that leaves unresolved how much marijuana an individual can grow before tougher penalties apply.
The legislative debate on the bill focused primarily on punishment for possession of the drug, but the most drastic reduction of penalties under it apply to cultivation, now punishable by a maximum of 40 years in prison.
The bill reduces the penalty for the first offense of cultivation for personal use to 30 days and a $500 fine, but does not set a precise limit on the unmber of plants that would qualify for personal use. Possession of the drug for personal use is defined as less than one-half ounce.
Del. Raymond R. Robrecht (R-Roanoke County), a member of the House of Delegates Courts of Justice Committee, said in an interview that the bill may be vetoed because of the imprecise cultivation standard. "Obviously, 20 acres of marijuana wouldn't qualify as personal use," he said, "but this bill leaves open the qyestion of how much would,"
Dalton said he voted for a reduction of marijuana penalties when he was a member of the House of Delgates, but refused to commit himself on this bill.
Dalton has until April 2 to sign or veto legislation passed by the assembly's just-concluded 45-day session.
Democratic legislative leaders rated the session as mediocre and said it suffered from a lack of leadership by the Republican governor. However, Dalton said today that he is "extremely pleased with the outcome" of the session.
"All in all, I think it was a real good session," he said. "We didn't get into vast new programs for state government, and I'm not going to be pushing vast new programs for state government.
"I think we've got a good place to live in Virginia; and when you talk about vast new programs, you're talking anout added expense and more burden on eaxpayers. I think we came out of this session very sell."
After years of state employment increases that average 5 percent, Dalton said the number of authorized executive branch positions grew by 0.8 percent in the six months ending Jan. 1. He said the government had fewer authorized payroll positions at the beginning of this year than it did a year earlier. Total full-time state employment was 77,852, excluding college teaching and research positions, he said.