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Current Virginia law imposes a maximum fine of $500 and a maximum 30-day jail sentence for a first-time marijuana possession offense. Subsequent offenses are a Class 1 misdemeanor, which can be punishable with up to 12 months in jail, and/or fines up to $2,500. Although almost 10% of Virginians admit to regular marijuana use and more than half (57.6%) of Virginians found marijuana “easy or fairly easy to obtain,” arrests surrounding the drug have only increased in recent years. 27,852 people were arrested in Virginia for marijuana possession in 2017. Not only does the enforcement of this law discriminate against minorities (African Americans make up only 20% of Virginia’s population, but account for 45.5% of arrests for marijuana possession, despite equal consumption to their Caucasian counterparts), it also cost the state $81.2 million to enforce in 2016. Decriminalization will stop these racially-charged arrests and ensure that possession of small amounts of marijuana is only punishable with small fines instead of crimes.
This campaign seeks the passage of legislation that decriminalizes marijuana possession and decreases criminal penalties for possession. The goal is the passage of legislation, which would create a civil penalty of no more than $50 for a first-time possession charge, $100 for a second-time violation, and $250 for subsequent violations.
Decriminalization bills have been sponsored in the Virginia legislature for many years but have always been defeated. The 2018 legislature appeared to have more promise but again suffered several decriminalization defeats due to staunch opposition by Republicans. Democratic Governor Ralph Northam has called for the decriminalization of small amounts of marijuana, as well as Democratic Attorney General Mark Herring, and the Republican Senate Majority Leader, Tommy Norment. These developments, along with a swelling of public support, have given hope to many decriminalization advocates.
We are building towards a fairer Commonwealth, where Virginians have access to a fully decriminalized and legalized cannabis market, for medical and recreational use.