A bill drastically reducing penalties for simple possession of marijuana passed the Virginia House of Delegates on Monday by a 64-34 vote with bipartisan support. The bill, which has the support of Governor Ralph Northam, would scrap criminal charges for possession and replace them with minor fines.
Currently, simple possession of Marijuana in Virginia can result in arrest, a fine of up to $500 and 30 days in jail for a first-time offense. The new bill would replace this with a civil fine of $25, similar to a parking ticket. The civil penalty does not go on one’s criminal record, and former convictions would be sealed. The bill would also eliminate the suspension of adult driver’s licenses for possession, and recategorize hashish oil from schedule 1 drug to the same level of treatment as marijuana.
Decriminalization of marijuana has been part of Northam’s proposed criminal justice reform, along with measures such as parole reform and raising the felony larceny threshold. A measure to fully legalize marijuana failed earlier this year.
Democratic majority leader Charnielle Herring, who proposed the bill, wants to remove the negative impacts of the state’s current treatment of simple possession as a misdemeanor offense. In addition to the impact a conviction has on individuals’ criminal records and employment opportunities, Herring emphasized the racial disparity of possession arrests: “The amount of arrests and prosecutions of African-Americans with simple marijuana possession is three times that of their white counterparts.”
The Senate version of the bill passed the Finance and Appropriations Committee and will now advance to the Senate floor for a final vote.