On Thursday, Virginia Senators passed a bill decriminalizing marijuana within the state. The legislation removes the threat of imprisonment for simple marijuana possession.
The measure was approved through a voice vote by the Senate Judiciary Criminal Law Subcommittee. The panel debated other measures that were adopted into the passed marijuana legislation, such as the expungement of criminal records and decriminalization proposal.
The subcommittee approved the measure irrespective of the protests from the state chapter of the ACLU. The ACLU argued that the legislation did not protect the people of color from being caught up in the war against drugs and said that they would prefer to wait until the broad legalization of marijuana is achieved.
Although other supporters of the criminal justice reform are in favor of proceeding with certain amendments, they still shared their concerns about the limitations of SB 2. Individuals found guilty of simple possession are liable to a civil penalty, which is punishable by a maximum fine of $50. However, according to the current policy, the same charge attracts a fine of $500 and an additional 30 days in jail.
The legislation would also remove the possession threshold from half an ounce to one once for what is referred to as “intent to distribute.” The definition of hashish would also be removed from state law, and it would be treated as marijuana flower.
Since an expungement provision is in other legislation that has advanced through the Senate, the Senators removed its language from the bill before it was approved. The proposed penalties against juvenile offenders were also reduced.
The subcommittee also agreed to integrate a separate decriminalization bill with a three-tier scheme of offenses, first, second, and third, into SB 2. The measure advancing to the Senate Judiciary Committee stipulates that an offender would be charged a fine of $50 irrespective of the tier.
The Attorney General, Mark Herring, together with the Virginia NORML, testified in favor of the legislation.
Speaking to the media, the Executive Director of Virginia NORML, Jenn Michelle Pedini, said that the panel’s vote is historic and a step in the right direction. Pedini further noted that the lawmakers’ decision to advance the measure is welcome since the state’s marijuana laws have been lagging behind public opinion.
Pedini further said that marijuana criminalization is not solved by decriminalization since decriminalization does nothing to ease the impact of the war against drugs. Therefore, to regulate recreational marijuana and undo the harms of war against drugs, the Commonwealth must swiftly legalize marijuana.
At the beginning of January, during his annual State of the Commonwealth speech, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam included decriminalization in his policy. He said that leaders need to take a look at the criminal justice system to ensure that people are being treated fairly and that the taxpayers’ money is being used wisely.
Herring is in support of decriminalization, which he believes is a step towards broad marijuana legalization. He is also vying for the governorship in 2021. Last month, Herring organized a summit where officials in legal marijuana educated the lawmakers about regulatory challenges and opportunities. During the summit, Herring said that he would support the governor’s push for comprehensive marijuana reform.
It remains to be seen what companies like SinglePoint Inc. (OTCQB: SING) think of the chances of full cannabis legalization in Virgina now that marijuana has been decriminalized.
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