Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) has signed into law cannabis decriminalization reforms that include expungement provisions. The measure reduces the penalties for possession of up to a half-ounce to $25; previously, possession charges could lead to a $500 fine and 30 days in jail.
Northam signed the law along with a host of others aimed at reforming the state’s criminal justice system. According to Virginia Criminal Sentencing Commission data, more than 15,000 people were convicted in the state for a first or second marijuana possession offense from July 2018 to June 2019.
“Every Virginian deserves access to a fair and equitable criminal justice system. These bills combat mass incarceration, increase support for returning citizens, and ensure that those who have paid their debt to society have a meaningful second chance. I thank the General Assembly for working with us to build a more just and inclusive Commonwealth.” – Northam in his signing statement
Jenn Michelle Pedini, NORML Development Director who also serves as executive director of the state affiliate Virginia NORML, said in a statement that Northam’s signing of the bill, “turns public opinion” — that cannabis should be decriminalized in the state — “into public policy.”
The bill requires that all previous convictions and records for simple possession be sealed but also includes provisions requiring substance abuse screening and loss of driving privileges for juveniles caught possessing any amount of cannabis.
The bill also requires the secretaries of Agriculture and Forestry, Finance, Health and Human Resources, and Public Safety and Homeland Security to convene a work group to study the impact of legalizing adult cannabis use. Under the law, that report based on the recommendations of the workgroup must be submitted to the General Assembly and the Governor by November 30, 2020.
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