Virginia recently joins the list of states progressing towards the legalization of cannabis. Over the weekend, lawmakers signed into law the decriminalization of cannabis. Not only will this law significantly reduce the penalties associated with cannabis, but there will also be an expungement process. This is a small step, but the first toward complete legalization.
There are many benefits that come packaged with decriminalization. First, authorities will no longer arrest for the possession of up to an ounce of cannabis. Instead, first-time offenders will receive a $25 civil penalty. Currently, the consequence of the same actions will result in a $500 fine and up to 30 days in jail.
“Virginia made history this week with both the House and Senate voting to decriminalize personal possession of marijuana, and the Senate approving a measure to legalize the state’s nascent medical cannabis program,” said Jenn Michelle Pedini, executive director of Virginia NORML.
Another benefit of decriminalizing cannabis is the creation of an expungement process for previous minor convictions. This process will eliminate close to 30,000 records a year. As a result, thousands of Virginians will have the opportunity to start fresh. The expungement process will target individuals who have little to no criminal history beyond cannabis possession.
Finally, an additional legislature creates a research group to study cannabis. This information could lead to greater accomplishments in terms of legalization for cannabis. If the results are promising, information from these studies could also influence other stubborn states into at least considering legalization.
Although this doesn’t completely fix the prison system within Virginia, it does come at a good time. In 2018, Virginia reached its highest level of cannabis arrests in 20 years. Now that the state has decriminalized cannabis, arrests in that category will shrink significantly.
Normally cannabis legalization has struggled in Virginia, but both chambers voted in favor of the bill. The house voted 56-36, while the Senate ended in a 27-12 vote. Other recent state legalizations may have influenced members of both parties to vote in favor of legalizing cannabis.
Advocates for cannabis don’t want to stop here. They believe lawmakers should legalize cannabis altogether. There are two trains of thought with this argument. First, complete legalization is inevitable at the rate this country is going. Second, there are so many medicinal and economical benefits to legalizing cannabis. Decriminalizing cannabis is great, but complete legalization would have way more benefits.
“Passing decriminalization in both the House and the Senate is a really important first step in the right direction on Virginia’s journey towards legal and regulated adult use, but this cannot be the end. We must keep going because the work is not done,” Attorney General Mark Herring (D) said in a press release. “I want to thank my colleagues in both the House and the Senate for joining me in making this issue a priority and I look forward to seeing the progress we can make in the coming years.”
Although advocates want more than just decriminalization, Virginia has a lot to celebrate for. Not only has lawmakers decriminalize cannabis, but they have also created an expungement process that will wipe out the records of many first-time offenders of minor cannabis crimes.
Another great opportunity from this decision is the creation of a research program dedicated to studying cannabis. No matter what information is released from this study, the information will contribute to the overall knowledge of cannabis. Nonetheless, this is an important victory for both cannabis and Virginia.
“This is an enormous victory for Virginians, a supermajority of whom have for many years opposed the continued criminalization of marijuana possession,” said Pedini.