Virginia: New Bipartisan Bill Would Decriminalize Marijuana Possession, Reduce Penalty for Distribution

A bipartisan group of state legislators in Virginia have filed a measure that would decriminalize marijuana possession, and reduce the penalty for distributing up to half a pound.

According to its official summary, House Bill 1063 “Decriminalizes marijuana possession and provides a civil penalty of no more than $250 for a first violation and $1,000 for a second or subsequent violation.” Under current law, a first offense is punishable by a maximum fine of $500 and a maximum jail sentence of 30 days, and subsequent offenses are a Class 1 misdemeanor. The bill “creates a rebuttable presumption that a person who possesses no more than one-half ounce of marijuana possesses it for personal use and provides that the existing suspended sentence and substance abuse screening provisions apply only to criminal violations or to civil violations by a minor.”

The bill also “decreases the penalty for distribution or possession with intent to sell more than one-half but not more than five pounds of marijuana from a Class 5 felony to a Class 6 felony.”

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Virginia Senate Majority Leader Working on Bill to Decriminalize Marijuana

One of Virginia’s top lawmakers is currently working on legislation that would decriminalize marijuana throughout the state.

Senate Majority Leader Tommy Norment, a Republican, says he’s in the process of drafting a bill that would remove the possibility of jail time for those caught possessing marijuana. The measure is likely to effect those caught possessing an ounce or less. Under current Virginia law, those caught possessing up to half an ounce of marijuana can be charged with a misdemeanor and imprisoned for up to 30 days; for subsequent offenses the potential jail time rises to a year. Possessing over half an ounce is a felony punishable by 1 to 10 years in prison.

Norment’s announcement that he’s working on a decriminalization measure comes shortly after the release of a State Crime Commission study which found that such a law would prevent over 10,000 arrests every year in Virginia. Not only would this save taxpayer money to persecute and imprison marijuana users, it will prevent the life-altering consequences associated with a marijuana misdemeanor.

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Virginia Lawmakers to Consider Decriminalizing Cannabis Next Month

By Robert Capecchi, Deputy Director of State Policies, Marijuana Policy Project

When the Virginia Legislaturevirginia convenes in January, a bill to stop criminalizing those who simply possess marijuana will be awaiting consideration.

Today, an individual convicted of marijuana possession in Virginia can be thrown in jail for up to thirty days, fined up to $500, or both! This overly punitive approach can destroy dreams — a criminal conviction makes it harder to get a job, housing, and education. Criminalizing marijuana possession also wastes vast amounts of resources. In 2012, there were more than 20,000 arrests made in Virginia for marijuana possession. It takes time for police to book marijuana users, prosecutors to try cases, and labs to test marijuana. Meanwhile, more than half of all reported rapes and 80% of all burglaries went unsolved.

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Proposal to Decriminalize Cannabis Filed in Virginia’s Senate

Virginia State Senator Adam Ebbin has filed a proposal to decriminalize cannabis.canna

Senate Bill 686 would remove criminal penalties for the possession of up to an ounce of cannabis, making it a simple $100 ticket rather than an arrestable misdemeanor.

The proposal, which will be considered by the state’s Senate once the Legislature reconvenes in January, would also reduce the criminal penalties for cannabis distribution (and intent to distribute), would create a legal defense for a person cultivating up to six plants for personal use, and would change the state’s paraphernalia laws so that they only apply to an adult who distributes to a minor at least three years his junior.

Read moreProposal to Decriminalize Cannabis Filed in Virginia’s Senate