Key Virginia Senate Committee Approves Marijuana Decriminalization Bill

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Nov 27, 2012
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Progress down here in the South!

Key Virginia Senate Committee Approves Marijuana Decriminalization Bill

Published 2 mins ago

on January 29, 2020

By Kyle Jaeger

A key Virginia Senate committee approved a bill to decriminalize possession of marijuana on Wednesday.

The Judiciary Committee advanced the legislation in a 11-2 vote. This comes one week after the panel’s Criminal Law Subcommittee passed the bill in a voice vote.

If enacted, the measure would make simple possession a civil penalty punishable by a maximum $50 fine. Current policy stipulates that a first offense is punishable by a maximum $500 fine and up to 30 days in jail.

“Years of hard work by so many open-minded organizations and legislators have made this bill more equitable and just,” Sen. Adam Ebbin (D), the legislation’s sponsor, told Marijuana Moment. “It is time to recognize that the prohibition on cannabis has failed, and move together away from an outdated system that has disproportionately affected people of color in the Commonwealth. I look forward to continuing my years of work to ensure this bill’s passage in 2020.”

Reform advocates have mixed opinions about the proposal. The state’s ACLU chapter opposes the legislation because members feel it doesn’t go far enough to repair the damages of prohibition and leaves in place penalties that will be unfairly targeted toward communities of color.

We are deeply disappointed that the Senate Judiciary committee reported SB 2 to the Senate Finance committee without allowing community members to testify and raise our voices for a more EQUITABLE marijuana legislation.

— ACLU of Virginia (@ACLUVA) January 29, 2020

Other advocates, including those at NORML, share that concern but support the bill as a step in the right direction that can be built upon.

“It’s well past time that public policy catch up with public opinion, and the Judiciary Committee’s swift 11-2 advancement of SB2 illustrates the legislature’s appetite for just that,” Virginia NORML Executive Director Jenn Michelle Pedini told Marijuana Moment.

In addition to removing criminal penalties for simple possession, the legislation would also raise the threshold for what can be considered “intent to distribute” from a half ounce to one ounce, and it would remove a separate definition of hashish from state law, meaning that it would be treated the same as cannabis flower.

As introduced, the bill included provisions providing for expungements for prior cannabis convictions, but those were removed during the subcommittee hearing last week because the policy is being addressed in separate legislation that is also advancing.

After clearing the Judiciary panel, the decriminalization bill next heads to the Finance Committee, where it could be further amended prior to arriving on the Senate floor.

Gov. Ralph Northam (D) campaigned on decriminalization, and he included the policy change proposal in his annual State of the Commonwealth speech earlier this month, arguing that the state needs “to take an honest look at our criminal justice system to make sure we’re treating people fairly and using taxpayer dollars wisely.”

While lawmakers are currently focused on getting decriminalization approved, many expect the move to be a first step toward broader legalization—a policy changed supported by Attorney General Mark Herring (D), who is running for governor in 2021 to replace the term-limited Northam.

Last month, the attorney general hosted a cannabis summit where lawmakers heard from officials in legal marijuana states challenges and opportunities associated with implementing broad reform. Herring said his summit would provide the governor with the resources he needs to embrace comprehensive reform.

Before that summit, a Virginia lawmaker filed a legalization bill, which has been referred to the House Courts of Justice Committee.
Well, it looks like Virginia is joining the dark ages...that happened in California in about 1975...I know because I had a possession charge that vanished from my own record back then...
I don’t know, maybe it’s progress but take a look around...something’s happenin and we know what it is...

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