Congratulations Virginia! Governor Ralph Northam signed a number of cannabis reform bills into law, effectively decriminalizing the possession of small amounts of cannabis and fully legalizing medical marijuana.
As of July 1, 2020, the possession of up to an ounce of cannabis will be treated as a civil violation, and only be punishable by a $25 fine. Jail time or a criminal record is entirely off the table.
Until now, ‘minor possession’ is a misdemeanor in Virginia and can be punished by a fine of up to $500, up to 30 days in jail, a permanent criminal record, and possible suspension of driving privileges.
More importantly, the new law also seals the records of previous cannabis offenders, meaning school administrators or employers will not be able to see these convictions.
“This is a major step forward for criminal justice reform in Virginia,” State Senator Adam Ebbin, who sponsored the legislation, said according to NORML.
“The prohibition on marijuana has clearly failed, and impacts nearly 30,000 Virginians per year. It’s well past time that we stop doing damage to people’s employment prospects, educational opportunities, and parental rights.”
Under the new law, government officials must conduct a study on the viability of fully legalizing adult-use cannabis, which must be submitted by November 30 of this year.
“As we decriminalize simple possession of marijuana and seal the records of prior convictions, I am proposing a study to assess the impact of fully legalizing marijuana in the Commonwealth,” Gov. Northam wrote on Sunday in a Tweet.
Virginia technically already had a medical marijuana program. The state originally passed a limited medical cannabis law in 2015, which was later expanded in 2018. Absurdly, cannabis remained illegal in Virginia with the law only giving medical marijuana patients a way to defend themselves in court if they were arrested.
One of the new laws signed over the weekend rights that wrong, specifically stating that no Virginian can be arrested, prosecuted, or denied any state-granted right or privilege for participating in the state’s medical marijuana program.
“Later this year, Virginia patients will finally have access to medical cannabis products and explicit legal protections thanks to Senator Marsden’s legislation,” said Jenn Michelle Pedini, executive director of Virginia NORML, in a statement.
“Additional dispensing facilities, telemedicine, and program registration for nonresidents are among some of the many legislative improvements we were able to accomplish this year.”
While there are still a few kinks to iron out, it seems almost certain that Virginia will become the 27th US state to decriminalize minor cannabis possession this summer.
What a great gift for 420.