Having small amounts of marijuana in your possession will no longer be punishable by a jail sentence in Virginia according to new decriminalization legislation lawmakers sent to Governor Ralph Northam.
“This means close to 30,000 people a year will no longer be labeled as criminals and no longer will suffer the negative repercussions of a criminal conviction,” said Sen. Adam Ebbin, D-Alexandria, who carried the legislation in the Senate.
Similar to a traffic ticket
Possession of cannabis will remain illegal, but will now be treated like a minor traffic violation. A $25 civil fine for possession of up to an ounce of the plant or products derived from it will be introduced. This includes concentrates. The legislation also seals records of past and future convictions, and prohibits employers and colleges from inquiring about violations.
Prior to the law being passed, possession of a half-ounce or less was punishable by up to 30 days in jail and a $500 fine. Possession of hash and other concentrates is punished as a felony. And while fines and driver’s license suspensions are more common in practice than jail time, a report generated in July 2017 found 127 people were being held in jail solely on a marijuana charge, according to a State Crime Commission report.
The decriminalization bill won bipartisan support in both chambers, passing the House on a 56-36 vote and the Senate 27-12.
If Gov. Ralph Northam, who has endorsed an earlier iteration of the legislation, agrees to the final bill, it will go into effect July 1, making Virginia the 26th state to either decriminalize the drug or legalize recreational adult use.