When lawmakers convene in Richmond next week for the 2013 General Assembly session, one of the issues on the table is an increase in penalties for cigarette trafficking — a measure that has the support of the bipartisan State Crime Commission.
With one of the lowest cigarette tax rates in the U.S., Virginia has become the destination for smugglers who can make an easy six-figure profit by transporting a van load of legally obtained smokes to high-tax states such as New York. It's so lucrative that it competes with the illegal drug trade.
Currently, it's legal in Virginia for one person to buy fewer than 25 cartons of cigarettes and transport them across state lines, and the commission debated whether or not to change that. Commission chairman Del. Rob Bell is also insterested in increasing the penalties.
"Lowering the felony threshold from 300 cartons to 50 cartons and then misdemeanor offense shall be raised from class two to class one and the penalty for second or subsequent, class one to class six," Bell says.
These measures could double jail time, with a first class misdemeanor offense punishable by up to a year in jail. A felony conviction could result in a penalty of up to five years for a first offense and 10 years for subsequent ones. The commission also recommended allocating additional law enforcement resources, and giving police the authority to seize vehicles used in cigarette trafficking.