Great Year for Virginia: Cannabis Possession Decriminalized
On Tuesday, the Virginia State Senate voted to decriminalize cannabis possession. Soon, anyone caught in the possession of cannabis will have to pay a small civil fine (paid just like a parking ticket), in place of going to court, facing possible jail time, and coughing up heavier fines.
Attorney General Mark Herring, Virginia’s top prosecutor, claims that this is a step in the right direction. Charniele Herring, Virginia House Majority Leader, also adds that Virginia’s approach to cannabis prosecution has disproportionately affected African-Americans (and people of color, in general) and that this decriminalization would help fight the racial disparities in the current criminal justice system of Virginia.
From 1999 to 2018, the number of first-time cannabis convictions in Virginia has grown from 9,000 to almost 29,000. According to the current law, anyone caught even with the smallest amounts of marijuana is not only arrested but also faces a $500 fine and some possible jail time (30 days at most). In addition, this would give them a criminal record, their driver’s license would get suspended, and more.
The new House bill, which governor Ralph Northam has also supported, will turn cannabis possession into a simple civil penalty (a $25 fine), with the maximum fine being $50. What’s more, a civil penalty doesn’t go into a person’s criminal record; meaning, cannabis aficionados will no longer live in fear of besmirching their clean records. Additionally, hashish oil will be treated as cannabis and there will be no driver’s license suspension.
Virginia’s criminal justice system has just made a giant leap forward in terms of cannabis reform. Hopefully, other states will also follow suit.