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Virginia State decriminalizes marijuana possession

Virginia State Capitol in Richmond,

The Virginia State is actively on the reform trail after Gov. Ralph Northam (D) officially signed two marijuana decriminalization bills into law on Thursday. The new law now allows Virginians to possess small amounts of marijuana without any threat of jail time or criminal record. 

The Senate passed the bill

In March, Virginia lawmakers initially passed the cannabis reform bill but the Governor recommended several amendments including more time to analyze the impact of wider cannabis legalization. He, therefore, sent the legislation back to the Senate and House of Delegates to consider the proposed amendments. The lawmakers finally adopted 15 of the proposed changes. However, they rejected two of the amendments including the clause that proposed more time.

After the revision, the lawmakers sent the bills back to the Governor, who officially approved them on Thursday, May 21. While Northam did not openly discuss the decriminalization legislation, it was clear he supported the changes. 

I am proud of the accomplishments we made together during this General Assembly session. We advanced long-neglected priorities, including rights and protections for Virginians. We were able to redirect funding to address the COVID-19 pandemic, and a number of the laws we enacted are proving to be more important than ever, Northam said in a press release.

A promise fulfilled

By signing the twin bills—HB 972 and SB 2, the Governor fulfilled his campaign promise he made to the people of Virginia in 2017. During his tenure as governor, he has continually emphasized the need for reform, even in his State of the Commonwealth addresses. 

Under the new law, marijuana possession of up to one ounce will attract a punishment of $25 fine. Offenders will not face any jail time or have a criminal record. Currently, Virginia law imposes a maximum of $500 fine and 30-day jail term on simple possession of marijuana. Besides, offenders have to grapple with a criminal record. 

Jenn Michelle Pedini is the Executive Director of Virginia NORML. Regarding this development, he said:

This victory comes after many years of sustained effort by Virginia NORML and its membership. And while we applaud Governor Northam, his administration, and the legislature for taking this step, it’s critical that they work swiftly to legalize and regulate the responsible use of cannabis by adults and begin undoing the damages prohibition has waged on tens of thousands of Virginians.

Marijuana crusaders believe the step to decriminalize cannabis possession in Virginia is long overdue. According to Steve Hawkins, Marijuana Policy Project Executive Director, cannabis is safer than alcohol. In a press release, he said:

The move to decriminalize cannabis possession in Virginia is long overdue. We applaud the legislature and the governor for implementing a policy that will allow law enforcement to focus resources on more serious crimes and prevent Virginians from having their lives derailed for possessing cannabis, a substance that is safer than alcohol.

The new law will take effect on July 1, 2020, making Virginia the 27th state to lift the threat of jail time for simple marijuana possession.

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