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Jim Bowen

Virginia Senate Majority Leader Tommy Norment, a Republican, is planning to introduce a measure to decriminalize cannabis possession in the state following the release of a State Crime Commission study that suggests more than 10,000 arrests could be prevented under such reforms.

According to the commission report, the agency received 5,665 written comments on the issue, and 3,850 (68 percent) of those were “directly related” to decriminalization, of which 3,743 supported such reforms compared to just 107 against. The remaining were either duplicates, related to medical cannabis, broad legalization, or other topics.

The Washington Post reports that over the last decade Virginia authorities have arrested more than 133,000 people suspected of cannabis possession, and about 10,000 per year are convicted on first-time cannabis possession offenses. On one day alone in July 2017, there were 127 individuals jailed on cannabis charges which cost taxpayers $10,000 per day.

The commission compared three decriminalization models – Illinois, which imposes a $100 to $200 fine; Maryland’s escalating model, which levies a $100 fine for a first offense, $250 for a second, and $500 for subsequent offenses; and Nebraska, which imposes a $300 fine for a first offense but criminalizes all subsequent offenses.

Under current Virginia law, first cannabis offenses are punishable by up to $500 and 30 days in jail.

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