Supporters, critics address marijuana decriminalization in Virginia

Virginia News

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — How people are punished for having small amounts of weed could change in Virginia. Some lawmakers are trying to decriminalize the drug during the 2020 legislative session. This could mean fines instead of time behind bars. 

In past years when Republicans had the majority in Virginia’s General Assembly, they shot down all efforts from lawmakers trying to decriminalize marijuana in the state. Supporters say the law right now is expensive for the state and racist. Studies show most people arrested and charged with small amounts are people of color. 

“Today, possessing marijuana in the commonwealth will result in a criminal charge. Even a small amount. A misdemeanor is not an expungeable crime in Virginia so it will follow a person for a lifetime,” Jenn Michelle Pedini, the Virginia NORML executive director, said. NORML works “to reform marijuana laws for a safer commonwealth,” according to their website

On Monday, Virginia Senator Adam Ebbin filed a bill that would give offenders a fine instead of jail time for having less than an ounce of weed.

“The new majority creates a pathway for decriminalization to advance out of committee, to be voted on the floor, and pass,” Pedini said. Governor Ralph Northam said he’ll sign a decriminalization bill.

Attorney General Mark Herring supports the issue too, and further, wants it legalized. More than 75 percent of Virginians support decriminalizing marijuana, according to a recent Christopher Newport University poll.

Republican Senator Amanda Chase (R-Chesterfield) doesn’t support legalizing recreational use of marijuana but said she sees the argument for decriminalizing it.

“There’s a number of opinions on this particular issue. I don’t think that we should be putting in prison, putting in jail, people unnecessarily if they’re productive members of society, they have not committed violent crimes. We really need to take a closer look at that,” she said.

Right now, builders are getting closer to opening the Richmond district’s medical marijuana farm and dispensary on Decatur Street. Last September, the Virginia State Board of Pharmacy approved the applications for five companies to open medical marijuana dispensaries across the commonwealth.

This week, a U.S. House committee took the next step in decriminalizing marijuana at the federal level. The bill would still need to go through the House and Senate.

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