Seal of the Governor
For Immediate Release: May 2, 2019
Contacts: Office of the Governor: Alena Yarmosky, Alena.Yarmosky@governor.virginia.gov

Governor Northam Vetoes Legislation with Potential Inadvertent Consequences for Individuals Struggling with Addiction

RICHMOND—Governor Ralph Northam today vetoed House Bill 2528, which would hold a person who gives, manufactures, sells, or distributes a Schedule I or Schedule II controlled substance liable for a crime of felony murder when a recipient of the controlled substance dies as a result of an overdose, resulting in a sentence of five to forty years in prison. The legislation would add the charge for an individual already facing a charge of distribution of the controlled substance, subject to a penalty of five to 40 years imprisonment. 

While addressing the opioid crisis and ensuring drug dealers are punished for supplying dangerous drugs is a top priority for the administration, this bill goes beyond drug dealers and would punish individuals who are themselves struggling with addiction. Given those concerns, Governor Northam proposed amendments to the legislation that were later rejected by the General Assembly.

The Governor’s full veto statement is below.

May 2, 2019

Pursuant to Article V, Section 6, of the Constitution of Virginia, I veto House Bill 2528. This bill would hold a person who gives, manufactures, sells, or distributes a Schedule I or Schedule II controlled substance liable for a crime of felony murder when a recipient of the controlled substance dies as a result of an overdose, resulting in a sentence of five to 40 years in prison. The person would still face a charge of distribution of the controlled substance, subject to a penalty of five to 40 years imprisonment.  

Currently, under Virginia law, a person is liable for felony murder if in the manufacture, possession, or distribution of a Schedule I or Schedule II controlled substance, another person dies, if that death is connected in both time and place to the underlying felonious conduct. This legislation would expand the law to hold a person liable for felony murder without regard to whether the overdose was connected by time and place to the underlying felony. Essentially, a person would be criminally liable for murder even if the overdose occurred days or even months after the deceased received the drugs.

The disease of addiction has long devastated our communities. While I share the goal of addressing the opioid crisis and ensuring drug dealers are punished for supplying dangerous drugs, this bill goes beyond drug dealers and would punish individuals who are themselves struggling with addiction. The way to help individuals struggling with addiction is to ensure they receive proper treatment. We must continue to focus on the biological, psychological, and social factors that foster addiction so that those factors can be addressed and mitigated in order to save Virginia’s families and communities from the destruction of drug addiction. 

Accordingly, I veto this bill.

Sincerely,

 

Ralph S. Northam

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