Virginia set to decriminalize marijuana after lawmakers OK bill

Virginia is on track to become the 16th US state to decriminalize marijuana after the state’s House and Senate approved a decriminalization bill this week. 

First, on Monday, the House gave the green light for its decriminalization bill in a vote of 64-34, followed by the state Senate approving its own bill on Tuesday by a vote of 27-13.

The House version foresees a $25 fine for small marijuana possession charges, while the Senate voted for a maximum civil penalty of $50 or 5 hours of community service.

Under Virginia’s current law, low-level weed charges could lead to a $500 fine and up to 30 days in jail.

Up until 2017, people caught with marijuana would also have their driver’s license taken away as Virginia is among states that adopted so-called Smoke a joint, lose your license laws.

The passage of these laws was encouraged by the federal  Solomon–Lautenberg amendment (1990), which sought to take away driver’s licenses from anyone who committed a drug offense.

Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring welcomed decriminalization in a statement in which he expressed hope the state would soon legalize recreational marijuana as well.

“Passing decriminalization in both the House and the Senate is a really important first step in the right direction on Virginia’s journey towards legal and regulated adult use, but this cannot be the end,” Herring stated.

The attorney general went on to cite the disproportionate targeting of people of color by the War on Drugs.

“We must keep going because the work is not done. For too long, Virginia’s approach to cannabis has needlessly saddled Virginians, especially African Americans and people of color, with criminal records but with these votes that is finally coming to an end,” the attorney general said.

“I want to thank my colleagues in both the House and the Senate for joining me in making this issue a priority and I look forward to seeing the progress we can make in the coming years,” he concluded.

Virginia’s Governor Ralph Northam is expected to grant the final seal of approval to a decriminalization bill as he himself called on lawmakers to enact marijuana reform throughout his campaign and tenure as governor.

Sixteen US states have decriminalized weed, four of them last year (Hawaii, New Mexico, North Dakota and New York). Meanwhile, 11 states and Washington DC have fully legalized marijuana.

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