Virginia House and Senate lawmakers have passed legislation decriminalizing minor cannabis offenses. The new standard will be a civil violation -- punishable by a maximum $25 fine, no arrest and no criminal record. Under the current law, minor possession of cannabis were classified as criminal misdemeanors, punishable by up to 30 days in jail, a criminal record, and the possible loss of a driver's license.
House Bill 972 passed by a vote of 64 to 34 and will reduce the penalties for offenses involving the possession of up to a half ounce of cannabis. While Senate Bill 2 passed by a vote of 27 to 13 and reduces penalties for the possession of up to one ounce of cannabis to a $50 fine. The committee will look to reconcile both bills in their conference committee.
According to the Virginia Criminal Sentencing Commissions, more than 15,000 people were convicted for a first or second cannabis possession offense. Those arrests were only from July 2018 to June 2019.
Governor Ralph Northam and Attorney General Mark Herring are both on record in favor of decriminalizing cannabis. Senate lawmakers also passed a separate piece of legislation on Tuesday. SB 1015 was passed by a unanimous vote. The state measure states that no one may be arrested, prosecuted or denied any right or privilege for participating in the state’s medical cannabis oil program.
This legislative activity pushed NORML Development Director Jenn Michelle Pedini to comment on the progress of Virginia. She states, “Long overdue progress is finally being made in the General Assembly thanks to many years of dedicated advocacy by Virginia NORML members.”
Pedini went on the state that while decriminalization is a good first step, the policy will do little to address illegal drug sales, consumer safety, nor will it reduce the disparate enforcement of cannabis laws.