Marijuana decriminalization in Virginia has taken effect, as of July 1, 2020.

Now, marijuana possession of up to one ounce in Virginia is punishable by a $25 fine without the threat of jail time or a criminal record. Prior to the change, simple cannabis possession was subject to a maximum $500 fine, up to 30 days in jail as well as a criminal record. The new law also means that misdemeanour cannabis possession records are now sealed from employers and school administrators.

The long-overdue reform of Virginia’s cannabis laws follows the passage of decriminalization legislation by the state legislature earlier this year. Gov. Ralph Northam recommended various amendments to the legislation, which the Senate and House largely incorporated before the governor signed the measure into law in May.

Virginia now becomes the 27th state to decriminalize marijuana.

“Virginians have long opposed the criminalization of personal marijuana possession, and the enactment of this legislation turns that public opinion into public policy,” said Jean Michelle Pedini, executive director of Virginia NORML.

Marijuana-related arrests had soared in Virginia in recent years, reaching its highest over the past decade in 2018. Indeed, the 29,000 arrests on marijuana charges made in 2018 are triple those made in 1999. Several Virginian prosecutors responded earlier this year by making clear they would no longer pursue convictions of cannabis possession cases. Recent research by the American Civil Liberties Union further underlined the need for reform by showing that these arrests disproportionately fall on people of color, especially black people.

State Attorney General Mark Herring, who is lining up a run for the Virginian governorship in 2021, welcomed the decriminalization measure but called for more extensive marijuana reform.

“Virginia’s approach to cannabis hasn’t been working for far too long, needlessly saddling Virginians, especially Black Virginians and people of color, with criminal records. Those days are now behind us,” he said in a press release. “With this historic legislation, we are making Virginia a more just, fair, equal and progressive place.”

“While decriminalization is an important first step on Virginia’s path, we cannot stop until we have full legalization in the Commonwealth,” he added.

His calls were echoed by other cannabis reform advocates, including Steve Hawkins, executive director of the Marijuana Policy Project.

“As the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus has recognized, full legalization is needed,” he said. “While decriminalization is long overdue, legalization is necessary to dramatically reduce police-civilian interactions and remove the pretext for countless police stops.”

A further provision of the decriminalization bill, proposed by Gov Northam, suggests that such a move is being strongly considered. This provision establishes a working group to report on the potential impact of adult-use cannabis legalization in Virginia.The new policy changes means Gov. Northam has kept to his 2017 campaign pledge for reform of the state’s marijuana laws, which he reiterated in his State of the Commonwealth address earlier this year.

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