After years of harsh penalties surrounding the use, possession, and sale of marijuana in Virginia, there is hope for cannabis reform in 2020.
Virginia’s Attorney General Mark Herring hosted a Cannabis Summit in Virginia in December to get ahead on cannabis reform before the 2020 General Assembly taking place this month.
Cannabis Decriminalization in Virginia
“The reason that I’ve organized this cannabis reform summit is to bring lawmakers and policymakers together to hear from experts and folks from other states who’ve had experience in this to share that information to give them the tools and information they need in order to craft a good plan for Virginia going forward,” said Herring.
One such policymaker is democratic delegate Mike Mullin, who believes that 2020 is the year that Virginia will push for decriminalization. “The inequities in the administration of marijuana here in Virginia has just been horrible,” Mullin says. “It’s just been in many times very racist. So I absolutely think we will decriminalize this year.”
Cannabis decriminalization in Virginia has a ton of support from political figures and citizens alike. However, some policymakers are still on the fence. Mike Doucette, who serves as head of the Commonwealth’s Attorneys Association, says the CAA doesn’t take an official stance for or against cannabis decriminalization. However, he believes that full legalization would be a mistake for Virginia. He thinks it would create unforeseen issues, like secondhand smoke and driving under the influence.
However, since the democratic party has taken control of the House and Senate of the General Assembly, there’s a good chance that the party will pass legislation that failed to pass in the past. Namely, cannabis decriminalization, although the possibility of legalization is still adamant with support from figures like Herring.
“Now that that’s changing, I think there’s a real opportunity that this new Democratic majority will pass real, meaningful reform,” said Herring. “I hope at a minimum that means decriminalization of possession of small amounts and addressing past convictions. I also hope that it puts on a path to make a concrete plan for how Virginia could move to legal and regulated adult use.”
“To move from just decriminalization to legal and regulated adult-use does involve a number of big questions that we as a Commonwealth are going to need to have to answer. But, we can learn from the experience of other states and have that conversation and I feel confident that we can do it in Virginia. It will take some time, and I think it may take a year or so of study to bring this information out, to wrestle with these policy questions,” said Herring.
As of now, one cannabis-related piece of legislation has been filed for the 2020 session. SB2 is the bill drafted to decriminalize cannabis possession and limit civil fines to no more than $50. The bill would also allow for people to petition for expungement of any prior cannabis-related convictions and raise the amount of cannabis needed to be charged with distribution or possession with intent to distribute from ½ ounce to a full ounce.
Virginia’s Current Marijuana Laws
Virginia has been heavily anti-cannabis decriminalization for years dishing out extreme penalties for possession, cultivation, and distribution. Under Virginia’s current laws, possession of any amount of cannabis up to ½ ounce is considered a misdemeanor charge, and anyone caught with it could face up to 30 days in jail and a $500 fine. If you get caught with weed more than once, you could pay up to $2500 in fines and spend more time in jail. You could also lose your driver’s license.
If you get caught with a lot of marijuana, you could get tacked with an intent to distribute charge, which includes even steeper penalties. If you get caught with more than a half-ounce of weed, the charge jumps from a misdemeanor to a felony. Selling more than 5 lbs of cannabis will earn you up to 30 years in jail, though additional charges incur if the sale was made near a school, to a minor, or as a subsequent offense.
Any sale or cultivation of cannabis is illegal in Virginia and on a federal level. Federal charges could incur stricter penalties than the laws set by the state of Virginia. It’s also important to keep in mind that getting caught with marijuana could make it more difficult for you to rent a home or secure employment.
The only exemptions are for people who are protected by HB 1445, which provides protection to and defense of people who use cannabis medically. However, medical users can still be arrested and charged for possession of drugs. To qualify for exemptions, the following requirements must be met:
- The patient has intractable epilepsy
- The extract they use contains no more than 5% THC and contains at least 15% THC-A or CBD.
If you’re not sure what your rights are in regard to Virginia’s laws on cannabis use and possession, be sure to consult with your attorney.
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