The Virginia Legislature has killed two bills aiming to decriminalize cannabis possession in the state but a measure allowing first-time offenders to expunge their records passed the Senate Courts of Justice Committee, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reports. Last week, House Republicans on the Courts Committee voted down a measure by Del. Steve Heretick that would have decriminalized possession of a half-ounce, while, on Monday, a similar measure proposed by Sen. Adam Ebbin was defeated by the Senate Courts committee across party lines 9-6.
However, the Senate Courts Committee unanimously passed Sen. Thomas Norment Jr.’s expungement proposal, which would also remove the 30 days in jail allowed under current law for first-time cannabis offenders. The $500 fine would remain. The measure calls for a $300 expungement fee, which would be directed to the state’s Heroin and Prescription Opioid Epidemic Fund. That measure was referred to the Senate Finance Committee.
Claire Guthrie Gastañaga, executive director of the Virginia ACLU, supported Ebbin’s bill; however, opposes Normant’s, calling it “the illusion of progress,” adding that many people would not have the money to pay the expungement fee and the state would likely incur additional costs, having to set up new systems for the expungement program that don’t already exist.
While the decriminalization measures were supported by Gov. Ralph Northam’s administration, they were opposed by the Virginia Association of Commonwealth’s Attorneys.
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