On Sunday, during the final hours of the legislative session, Virginia’s General Assembly approved a bipartisan bill to decriminalize marijuana possession.
The decriminalization bills, SB2 in the Senate and HB 972 in the House of Delegates, would mostly allow adults to possess up to one ounce of marijuana — including hash or concentrates like oil — for personal use. Adults caught with an ounce or less of weed can face a maximum $25 fine that can be paid off much like a parking ticket.
State Delegate Charniele Herring (D-46), the Virginia House Majority Leader who introduced HB 972, said the bills’ passage “is an important step in mitigating racial disparities in the criminal justice system,” NORML reported.
“While marijuana arrests across the nation have decreased, arrests in Virginia have increased,” Herring continued. “This bill will not eliminate the racial disparities surrounding marijuana, but it will prevent low-level offenders from receiving jail time for simple possession…”
Virginia’s marijuana decriminalization bills also set up a system for sealing criminal records for past weed offenses. Basically, anyone convicted, charged, or arrested for misdemeanor pot possession crimes would qualify to have their records sealed from employers, schools, and even some government agencies and government employees.
These bills may serve as one giant leap toward full-out legalization, too. The decriminalization measures set up an investigative committee to research how recreational marijuana legalization could affect Virginia.
Both bills require the governor’s signature to become law. Gov. Ralph Northam, a Democrat and vocal proponent of cannabis law reform, is expected to sign the decriminalization measures. Two other cannabis bills approved by the legislature this month — one that formally legalizes medical marijuana products and another that expands the state’s medical cannabis program — also await the governor’s signatures.
Democrats took control of Virginia’s government last November, and the first legislative session led by them has already impacted the state’s social trajectories. Among weed decriminalization, the General Assembly on Sunday also legalized casinos and allowed local districts to remove Confederate monuments.