On July 2, 2020, only a day after Virginia decriminalized marijuana, some state lawmakers are already optimistic about full legalization, said Marijuana Moment. The group of legislators from the Democratic National Committee (DNC) revealed their plan to propose a bill that would create a legal and regulated commercial cannabis market in Virginia.
In a press release, House Majority Leader Charniele Herring said, “Decriminalizing marijuana is an important step in mitigating racial disparities in the criminal justice system, but there is still much work to do.” Herring also noted that cannabis-related arrests in Virginia are on the incline while those at the national level is decreasing.
An NBC12 report said that there were 29,000 arrests for possession in 2018 alone. In the prior year, around 127 individuals were “held in jail solely on marijuana charge.” The report also noted that the enforcement of marijuana laws before decriminalization “disproportionately targeted Black Virginians.” Past laws punished possession with up to 30 days of jail time, a $500 fine, and a long-term criminal record.
Aside from Herring, other legislators pushing the legalization include Senators Ada Debbin, Jennifer McClellan, and Del. Steve Heretick, all Democrats. The lawmakers are set to file the bill next year.
This plan to file a bill for full legalization followed the recent decriminalization that took effect on July 1, 2020. The decriminalization law, sponsored by Herring, led by Ebbin and signed by Governor Ralph Northam, removes punishment for low-level possession, specifically up to one ounce of cannabis. Individuals found carrying such amount will only be punished with a $25 fine without any threat of jail time or criminal records.
With regard to the newly passed decriminalization bill, Herring said that it “will prevent low-level offenders from receiving jail time for simple possession.” Full legalization is believed to address public safety and racial equity in the rapidly successful market.
However, Senator Scott Surovell reminded the public that “just because it’s now a civil infraction doesn’t mean [residents] are immune from bad things happening” should they get charged or convicted. Surovell also expressed his concern that “the bill will give a lot of people a false sense of security.”
It is important to note that the recently passed bill includes a provision that mandates the study of full legalization in the future. The study panel will include representatives from various agencies including the Secretaries of Agriculture and Forestry, Public Safety and Homeland Security, Finance, and Health and Human Resource. The committee is required to submit a report by November.
Meanwhile, Ebbin remarked that decriminalization, while an essential first measure for Virginia, the state still has a lot to cover until full legalization.
While the Herring’s group is yet to file their proposal, the Senate Democratic Caucus will be holding a special session in August to tackle a bill that will prohibit law enforcement from searching people and vehicles based solely on the smell of cannabis. There were also bills that proposed the expungement of criminal records but were not passed to the governor.