Richmond, VA: House and Senate lawmakers have passed legislation decriminalizing minor marijuana possession offenses.
House Bill 972, which passed the House of Representatives by a vote of 64 to 34, reduces penalties for offenses involving the possession of up to a half ounce of marijuana to a civil violation – punishable by a maximum $25 fine, no arrest, and no criminal record. Senate Bill 2, which passed the Senate by a vote of 27 to 13, reduces penalties for the possession of up to one ounce of marijuana to a $50 fine. It is anticipated that the two competing bills will be reconciled in conference committee.
Under current law, minor marijuana possession offenses are classified as criminal misdemeanors, punishable by up to 30 days in jail, a criminal record, and the possible loss of driving privileges.
According to data from the Virginia Criminal Sentencing Commission, more than 15,000 people were convicted for a first or second marijuana possession offense from July 2018 to June 2019.
Both the Governor and the Attorney General are on record in favor of decriminalization.
Senate lawmakers also passed separate legislation this week, SB 1015, by a unanimous vote. The measure states that no person may be arrested, prosecuted, or denied any right or privilege for participating in the state’s medical cannabis oil program. The program is expected to be operational and dispensing cannabis products to authorized patients by mid-year.
Commenting on the legislative activity, NORML Development Director Jenn Michelle Pedini, who also serves as the Executive Director of Virginia NORML, said: “This week, both the House and Senate voted in favor of decriminalizing personal possession of marijuana, and the Senate voted unanimously to legalize participation in Virginia’s medical cannabis program. Long overdue progress is finally being made in the General Assembly thanks to many years of dedicated advocacy by Virginia NORML members.”