Virginia Governor Ralph Northam signed a bill into law Thursday that decriminalizes personal marijuana possession. The bill, SB 2, assigns a civil rather than criminal penalty for simple marijuana possession. SB 2 presumes marijuana possession in measurements of an ounce or less as simple possession.
A summary of the bill as enacted by the governor’s recommendation describes the law’s provisions:
[SB 2] [d]ecriminalizes simple marijuana possession and provides a civil penalty of no more than $25. Current law imposes a maximum fine of $500 and a maximum 30-day jail sentence for a first offense, and subsequent offenses are a Class 1 misdemeanor. The bill provides that any violation of simple possession of marijuana shall be charged by a summons in form the same as the uniform summons for motor vehicle law violations and that no court costs shall be assessed for such violations. The bill also provides that a person’s criminal history record information shall not include records of any charges or judgments for such violations and records of such charges or judgements shall not be reported to the Central Criminal Records Exchange. However, the bill states that if a violation occurs while an individual is operating a commercial motor vehicle, such violation shall be reported to the Department of Motor Vehicles and shall be included on such individual’s driving record. Also, the bill states that the procedure for appeal and trial of any violation of simple possession of marijuana shall be the same as provided by law for misdemeanors.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, Virginia has joined 26 other states in decriminalizing small amounts of marijuana possession. Of these 26 states, 10 have legalized recreational marijuana use for adults.
Virginia’s recent decriminalization follows a seemingly centralized push for loosened marijuana restrictions in the Washington DC metropolitan area. Maryland and Washington DC have likewise decriminalized small amounts of marijuana possession. However, only Washington DC itself has legalized recreational use.