The Virginia legislature passed a bill Sunday to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana. Governor Ralph Northam is expected to sign the bill into law.
HB 972 changes the penalty for simple possession of marijuana. Under current law, individuals who are found to possess marijuana face a maximum fine of $500 and up to 30 days in jail. If the bill goes into law, violators will only be subject to a $25 civil penalty. Additionally, HB 972 states that possessors will not have violations reflected in their criminal history.
The bill’s passage comes after Northam called for decriminalization measures last year. It also reflects recent public opinion polls which show that Virginia’s have changing attitudes towards the legality of marijuana.
Supporters argue that the legislation is necessary to address the impacts of the current policy. Violators have trouble finding employment and pursuing education. Some contend that decriminalization will create risks for public safety. For example, Rockingham County Sherriff Bryan Hutcheson asserts that law enforcement officials will be unable to ensure that marijuana users will not get behind the wheel.
Some want lawmakers to pursue the full legalization of the drug. It is unclear if that will be the next step though.