Virginia House Committee Votes Against Decriminalizing Cannabis Possession
The bill would have decreased the penalty for first-time offenses to a $250 fine with no jail time, but opponents argued that decriminalization would encourage cannabis use.
Published on January 26, 2018

A bill to decriminalize low-level cannabis possession in the state of Virginia was killed in a committee this week, making it unlikely that the state will see cannabis reform come to pass this year. A Virginian caught with any amount of marijuana currently faces a $500 maximum fine and up to 30 days in jail, but the bill would have reduced the penalty for possessing a half-ounce or less of cannabis to a maximum $250 civil fine for a first-time offense.

"We've seen evolved societal norms… More [people] are accepting of marijuana," State Delegate Steve Heretick said to the Virginian-Pilot. "This is a bill whose time has come." Heretick explained that many young Virginians were losing career opportunities due to low-level cannabis convictions, and noted that cannabis possession is legal in neighboring Washington D.C. Opponents of the bill argued that decriminalization would encourage cannabis use, as well as increase traffic accidents caused by drugged driving.

A state House subcommittee voted 7-1 against the bill, preventing it from coming up before the full House for a vote. The committee did, however, unanimously approve a second cannabis-related bill, which would legalize CBD oil for the treatment of seizure disorders.

State Senate Majority Leader Tommy Norment also planned to propose a decriminalization bill this year, but changed the focus of the legislation after realizing that the state House would not support full decriminalization. Norment's new bill, SB 594, would not decriminalize cannabis, but would allow anyone convicted of a first-time minor cannabis offense to have the conviction expunged from their records.

Chris Moore
Chris Moore is a New York-based writer who has written for Mass Appeal while also mixing records and producing electronic music.
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