As of Wednesday, July 1, 2020, the state of Virginia has fully implemented its marijuana decriminalization law signed by Governor Ralph Northam, said Marijuana Moment. With the full effect of this law, individuals who carry a maximum of one ounce of cannabis will only face a fine of $25 without any danger of jail time. This will also leave no spots on their criminal record.
The bill, which was approved in March with amendment recommendations from Northam, has been undergoing modifications in the Senate and House of Delegates. Fifteen of the governor’s suggested changes were adopted while two were rejected. One of the rejected amendments is one “that proposed to delay a required study into the impact of broader cannabis legalization,” as per the Marijuana Moment report.
This decriminalization has been promised by Northam back in 2017 when he was campaigning for the gubernatorial position. He has also been advocating for reform on the state’s marijuana laws.
NBC 12 noted that this is a momentous event for Virginia, a state “where police reported a record 29,000 arrests for marijuana possession in 2018.” A study also found that 127 individuals were jailed solely because of a marijuana charge. NBC 12 remarked that the enforcement of this previous law “disproportionately targeted Black Virginians.”
In the past, Virginia residents found possessing marijuana was fined by a maximum of $500 and up to 30 days of jail time. A simple possession was able guaranteed to leave a mark on their criminal record.
Virginia NORML executive director Jenn Michelle Pedini noted that “Virginians have long opposed the criminalization of personal marijuana possession” and that “the enactment of this legislation turns that public opinion into public policy.”
Olivia Naugle, a legislative analyst at the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) praised the new law, HB 972 and SB 2, saying, “Twenty-seven states have now decriminalized cannabis, and Virginia’s decriminalization law is the strongest among them.” The full implementation of the policy is expected to help Virginians avoid criminalization due to a simple possession, which could lead to their lives being “derailed.”
Even State Attorney general Mark Herring commended this reform. According to herring, the former approach has not been working for Virginians, especially people of color. He also praised the decriminalization for creating a “fair, equal, and progressive” environment for its residents.
Meanwhile, the MPP director Steve Hawkins asserted that legislators must continue pursuing full legalization, as per a statement from the state’s Black Caucus. Hawkins also noted that decriminalization has been overdue and that full legalization will “remove the pretext for countless police stops,” which will then reduce police-civilian interactions.
Leafly reported that the new law also removed restrictions for products that contain over 5% of THC. This means that patients can now buy products containing up to 10mg of THC in all forms, except for flowers.
In pursuance of reform and to enable legal medical sourcing, the state has approved processing companies and dispensaries, which will open later this year, according to Leafly. Lawmakers have also approved 25 more.