Virginia continues to prove the country is on a path to nationally legalize marijuana. State senators have successfully passed a bill that would decriminalize marijuana. This bill, known as SB 2, is supported by Attorney General Mark Herring and the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, or NORML.
“Virginia marijuana laws have long lagged behind public opinion, and the legislature’s newfound appetite for advancing such a measure is a welcome change,” said Virginia NORML Executive Director Jenn Michelle Pedini. “Today’s vote is a historic step in the right direction.”
Decriminalizing marijuana doesn’t make it legal to possess. Instead, it would make minor possessions of marijuana into a civil penalty with a fine up to $50. Currently, this crime is punishable by a fine up to $500, and potential jail time. The new law would aim to relieve congestion found in the prison system as a result of minor marijuana crimes.
Additionally, if SB 2 passes, Virginia will create an expungement process for anyone with a minor marijuana crime on their record. This process would allow for people to have a clean start as if nothing ever happened. Hopefully, Virginia follows in New York’s footsteps and works on removing these people from incarceration as well.
Finally, this bill would increase the amount of marijuana needed to qualify for distribution from a half-ounce to a full ounce. This doesn’t make it legal to carry marijuana in Virginia. Instead, it would create a bigger window to be charged for a civil penalty instead of a federal crime. This is another area where the state will have to examine and determine if expungement is necessary.
This will all result in plenty of benefits for the state. Most importantly, this will potentially fix the congested prison system. Earlier in January, Virginia Governor Ralph Northam pledged his support for the bill. He believes the state needs “to take an honest look at our criminal justice system to make sure we’re treating people fairly and using taxpayer dollars wisely.”
Progress Despite Opposition
Virginia joins several other states in welcoming the idea of legalizing marijuana within the new year. This is just another example of how the country is slowly legalizing marijuana as a whole. Conservative officials are slowly being replaced by people who see the potential benefits that come with the legalization of cannabis.
Virginia is a perfect example of this. Northam has never opposed the legalization of cannabis but never made it an immediate priority. His potential replacement, Attorney General Mark Herring, has always supported legalization. Herring is planning on taking action immediately and legalize marijuana, not just decriminalize.
That’s not to say there isn’t anyone who is fighting against the legalization. The American Civil Liberties Union has continuously protested the decriminalization in Virginia. Earlier this year the group sent a letter to Gov. Northam explaining that decriminalization doesn’t do anything to “end racist pretextual stops by police.” Instead, the ACLU believes that marijuana should be legalized immediately.
“The only way to stop the harm is to remove the prohibition on marijuana possession and use from the code completely, making it legal for adults to possess and use marijuana now and eliminating this racist policing tool,” said the ACLU of Virginia.
Once again, all we can do is wait and hope officials in Virginia make the right decision. We can expect to see more progress on the measure as the year goes on. Until then, it’s time to spread the word in Virginia and sign any petitions that would help pass this bill. The country is getting closer to national legalization, and that would mean a lot to our prison system and local economies.