Turning Point in Virginia Marijuana Decriminalization?
The Virginia legislature is investigating whether marijuana possession in small amounts should continue to be criminalized. For many, the prospect of decriminalization in Virginia once seemed unlikely. Virginians are not known for being particularly interested in change. In law school I heard the following joke:
Q: How many Virginians does it take to change a light bulb?
A: Three. One to change the lightbulb and two to reminisce about how much better the old light bulb was.
As such, when the neighboring areas of Maryland and Washington, D.C. started to take a more relaxed stance on marijuana criminalization, it was still believed that Virginia would be one of the last states in the nation to follow suit. In 2015, a Democratic state senator attempted to make a change to existing law by introducing a bill, which would have removed criminal penalties for up to an ounce of marijuana. Punishment for possession of small amounts of marijuana would have been reduced to a civil offense with $100 fine, meaning no jail time and no criminal record. Currently, under the Code of Virginia § 18.2-250.1, possession is punishable with up to 30 days in jail, a $500 fine, and loss of license. Not to mention the potential work and family consequences that may accompany a conviction. However, this bill failed in committee due to opposition from Republicans.
Fast forward to 2017, recent developments indicate that the tide may now be turning in favor of decriminalization. The executive committee of the Virginia State Crime Commission has decided to study marijuana decriminalization in Virginia. Interestingly, the study was called for by the Republican Majority Leader of the Virginia Senate, signaling that Republican opposition to decriminalization may be fading.
Only time will tell what the findings of this study will be and how it will effect the minds of citizens and lawmakers. Requesting the study shows that the very socially conservative general assembly is at least willing to look at Virginia’s marijuana policy from another point of view.
For now, marijuana remains a crime in Virginia, if you are charged with possession, contacting an attorney can help you understand your legal options.