Virginia state officials announced that almost 400,000 cannabis-related criminal records have been sealed since the state legalized adult-use marijuana possession in July.
The figures come courtesy of Virginia’s Cannabis Oversight Commission, and comprise 330,000 convictions for low-level cannabis possession and a further 64,000 convictions for low-level distribution.
Virginia’s marijuana regulator was first charged with combing through the state’s criminal records to identify cases eligible for expungement after marijuana possession was decriminalized last year. This effort intensified following the legalization of recreational cannabis possession this year.
“These initial record sealings by Virginia State Police are a small step toward righting the wrongs of cannabis prohibition,” said NORML Development Director, Jean Michelle Pedini. “There remains much work to be done to permanently remove these stains from Virginians’ records, and we’re committed to continuing our efforts in the 2022 General Assembly to help expedite that process.”
Virginia lawmakers also passed a bill this year – House Bill 2113 – which was signed into law by Gov. Ralph Northam to facilitate automatic expungements of prior convictions for cannabis-related offenses that would now be legal.
Following marijuana legalization in Virginia, the state now has the most lenient marijuana possession laws in the country, with a maximum civil penalty of $25 for possessing amounts greater than one ounce.
Virginia is one of many states that have legalized marijuana and are now making moves to end the legacy of criminal sanctions for prior cannabis offenses. Since launching adult-use marijuana sales at the beginning of last year, state officials in Illinois have expunged an estimated half a million marijuana-related criminal records. In California, almost 200,000 marijuana records have been sealed, while in New Jersey there have been around 362,000 expungements of cannabis-related records this year.
So far, around twenty states have passed legislation to enable or facilitate expungements of cannabis-related criminal records.