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Virginia Decriminalizes Cannabis

By Leo Bear-McGuinness

Published: May 22, 2020   
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Virginia has become the 27th US state to withdraw the penalty of jail time for possessing small amounts of cannabis.

On Thursday, May 21, the state governor, Ralph Northam, signed legislation that will decriminalize cannabis possession from July 1.

The new measure will make possession of one ounce of cannabis punishable by a $25 fine rather than jail time or a criminal record.

Prior to the new bill, cannabis possession in Virginia could incur a maximum fine of $500 and a maximum 30-day jail sentence for a first offense.

Free to possess

Governor Northam initially agreed to the decriminalization measure back in March, but the legislation was delayed to consider further amendments.

“I am proud of the accomplishments we made together during this general assembly session,” Northam said in a press statement.

“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.”

The decriminalization measures fall short of full legalization – a policy Northam has expressed support for.

“As we decriminalize simple possession of marijuana and seal the records of prior convictions, I am proposing a study to assess the impact of fully legalizing marijuana in the Commonwealth [of Virginia],” the state governor wrote on Twitter on April 12.

According to the legislative summary, this legalization study is required by the new bill. A report of its findings should be submitted to Northam and the state’s general assembly by November 30, 2021.

“Every Virginian deserves access to a fair and equitable criminal justice system,” Northam stated in April. “[…] these bills combat mass incarceration, increase support for returning citizens, and ensure that those who have paid their debt to society have a meaningful second chance.”

Under the new law, cannabis possession won’t be recorded in a person’s criminal history. But, if carrying cannabis while operating a vehicle, an individual’s violation will be included on their driving record.


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