Cannabis decriminalization approved by Virginia Senate

Bethan Rose Jenkins, Cannabis News Writer/Editorial

A broad measure to decriminalize cannabis was given the go-ahead by the Virginia Senate on Tuesday, February 11 with a vote of 27-13. Senate Bill 2 gained approval a day after the Senate and House of Delegates approved decriminalization legislation to minimize penalties for cannabis possession; HB 972.

HB 972 was approved by lawmakers in a 64-34 vote. It would reduce the penalty for anyone caught with an ounce of cannabis to just $25. Currently, individuals caught in possession of this amount would be slapped with a $500 fine, as well as face a potential 30-day stint behind bars.

Momentum was slow to build during the first half of the session, but I think a lot of consensus has been reached by the halfway point,” said the executive director of Virginia NORML, Jenn Michelle Pedini, during an interview with Marijuana Moment. “We’re heading into crossover with a much clearer understanding of what’s likely to shake out from this session.”

Virginia’s cannabis decriminalization bill would wipe previous convictions

As per the details of Virginia’s cannabis decriminalization bill, individuals who have previously been convicted of a cannabis-related offence could be in with a chance of having their records wiped clean. Some examples of minor offences that could be expunged include possession and DUIs.

Study results from the Virginia State Crime Commission showed that almost half of first-time cannabis possession arrests between 2007 and 2016 occurred among African Americans; an ethnic group constituting just 20 percent of Virginia’s population. These figures spotlight the problem that lingers among underprivileged communities. According to the commission, approximately 10,000 arrests could be avoided if Virginia’s cannabis decriminalization bill is approved and enacted.

Lawmakers will not consider adult-use cannabis legalization in Virginia this year

Even though a bill to decriminalize cannabis in Virginia is being considered by lawmakers, House Majority Leader Charniele Herring has made it clear that adult-use legalization will not be considered for 2020. Nonetheless, the progress of SB2 is certainly a step in the right direction. 

“To legalize it now would not be good, but this hopefully would take us one step closer to reducing the arrest and jailing of people for simple possession.” Herring told reporters

What’s more, a similar measure was recently advanced in the Senate; it would permit state-registered qualified patient individuals to legally possess cannabis. A separate bill that gained momentum would expand expungement rules. Although both bills await House approval, they indicate that Virginia could be turning greener in the future.

Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam is anticipated to sign Virginia’s cannabis decriminalization bill into law. He urged for cannabis reform changes during his candidacy.