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Decriminalization

  • by NORML June 1, 2020

    The total number of marijuana-related marijuana arrests declined more than eight percent from 2018 to 2019, according to annual data compiled by the Virginia State Police.

    State law enforcement officials recorded 26,470 arrests for marijuana violations in 2019, down from 28,866 in 2018. Marijuana-related arrests comprised 57 percent of all drug-related arrests recorded in 2019. Approximately half of those arrested for cannabis violations were age 24 or younger.

    Under state law first-time possession offenders face up to 30 days in jail and a criminal record. Subsequent offenses are punishable by up to one-year in prison. Those penalties change on July 1, 2020 when the state’s newly enacted marijuana decriminalization law takes effect. Under the new law, offenses involving personal possession of up to one ounce of marijuana are a civil violation – punishable by a maximum $25 fine, no arrest, and no criminal record.

    The year-over-year decline in marijuana arrests marks a reversal in policing trends. Between 2016 and 2018, marijuana-related arrests rose 25 percent in the state. Historically, African Americans have been arrested in Virginia for violating cannabis laws at more than three times the rates of Caucasians.

    NORML Development Director Jenn Michelle Pedini, who also serves as the executive director of the state affiliate chapter, Virginia NORML, welcomed the change in enforcement priorities. “It is a positive sign that after years of heightened enforcement, we’re now seeing a downward trend in marijuana-related arrests in Virginia. Following the enactment of decriminalization on July 1, we expect to see an even more drastic reduction in these arrests — arrests that, historically, have disproportionately impacted the poor, the young, and people of color.”

  • by Jenn Michelle Pedini, NORML Development Director May 21, 2020
    2020 Virginia General Assembly

    2020 Virginia General Assembly

    Richmond, VA: Democratic Governor Ralph Northam has signed legislation (Senate Bill 2 | House Bill 972) decriminalizing marijuana possession. The new law takes effect July 1, 2020 and reduces penalties for offenses involving personal possession of up to one ounce of marijuana to a civil violation – punishable by a maximum $25 fine, no arrest, and no criminal record.

    Under current law, minor marijuana possession offenses are classified as criminal misdemeanors, punishable by up to 30 days in jail, a criminal record, and the possible loss of driving privileges. According to data from the Virginia Criminal Sentencing Commission, more than 15,000 people were convicted for a first or second marijuana possession offense from July 2018 to June 2019.

    “NORML is proud to have worked alongside Senator Ebbin and Delegate Herring, both longtime champions of evidence-based cannabis policy,” said NORML development director, Jenn Michelle Pedini, who also serves as the executive director of the state affiliate, Virginia NORML. “This victory comes after many years of sustained effort by Virginia NORML and its membership. And while we applaud Governor Northam, his administration, and the legislature for taking this step, it’s critical that they work swiftly to legalize and regulate the responsible use of cannabis by adults and begin undoing the damages prohibition has waged on tens of thousands of Virginians.”

    The new law also seals the criminal records of past marijuana offenders from employers and school administrators, and defines substances previously considered hashish as marijuana.

    The bipartisan, bicameral effort to amend the state’s marijuana possession penalties was led by Senator Adam Ebbin (D-30) and House Majority Leader Delegate Charniele Herring (D-46). Commenting on the bills’ final passage, Sen. Ebbin said, “This is a major step forward for criminal justice reform in Virginia. The prohibition on marijuana has clearly failed, and impacts nearly 30,000 Virginians per year. It’s well past time that we stop doing damage to people’s employment prospects, educational opportunities, and parental rights.

    Delegate Herring added: “[This] is an important step in mitigating racial disparities in the criminal justice system. While marijuana arrests across the nation have decreased, arrests in Virginia have increased. This bill will not eliminate the racial disparities surrounding marijuana, but it will prevent low-level offenders from receiving jail time for simple possession while we move toward legalization in coming years with a framework that addresses both public safety and equity in an emerging market.”

    Governor Northam had previously gone on record in support of decriminalizing marijuana violations and expunging past convictions, as has Attorney General Mark Herring. “Decriminalization is an important first step on Virginia’s path towards legal, regulated adult use, and one many thought was still years away, but we cannot stop now. We’ve shown that smart, progressive reform is possible and we must keep going,” General Herring told Virginia NORML.

    Twenty six states additional states and the District of Columbia have either legalized or decriminalized the adult possession and use of marijuana.

    In March, the legislature approved multiple bills calling on officials to further study marijuana legalization and to make recommendations to lawmakers in advance of the 2021 legislative session.

    In addition to approving marijuana decriminalization, Gov. Northam also signed Senate Bill 1015, which states that no person may be arrested, prosecuted, or denied any right or privilege for participating in the state’s medical cannabis program. The program is expected to be operational and dispensing cannabis products to authorized patients by mid-year.

    “As legislators became more comfortable with medical cannabis products, they recognized that patients and legal guardians of children and incapacitated adults need the protections of lawful possession instead of the affirmative defense. That is what SB 1015 provides — a statutory protection against prosecution, not merely an affirmative defense,” remarked Senator Dave Marsden (D-37), perennial champion of medical cannabis patients in the Commonwealth.

    During the April reconvened session, the legislature accepted Northam’s proposed amendments to Senate Bill 976, which redefines state-approved medical cannabis products previously termed cannabidiol oil or THCA oil as cannabis oil. The bill also allows for an additional five cannabis dispensing facilities in each of the state’s five Health Service Areas.

    Added NORML’s Jenn Michelle Pedini: “Later this year, Virginia patients will finally have access to medical cannabis products and explicit legal protections thanks to Senator Marsden’s legislation. Additional dispensing facilities, telemedicine, and program registration for nonresidents are among some of the many legislative improvements we were able to accomplish this year.”

    In total, eighteen marijuana-related bills succeeded in the 2020 Virginia General Assembly.

     

     

    A complete listing of marijuana-related legislation in the 2020 Virginia General Assembly is available here. For more information, contact Jenn Michelle Pedini, NORML Development Director & Virginia NORML Executive Director.

    Become a member Virginia NORML and join the fight to reform marijuana laws in the Commonwealth. Follow them on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

  • by Jenn Michelle Pedini, NORML Development Director April 12, 2020

    Richmond, VA: Democratic Governor Ralph Northam has approved legislation (Senate Bill 2 | House Bill 972) decriminalizing marijuana possession offenses. Northam also recommended technical amendments which must be approved by the legislature before the new law takes effect July 1, 2020.

    The law reduces penalties for offenses involving the possession of up to one ounce of marijuana to a civil violation – punishable by a maximum $25 fine, no arrest, and no criminal record.

    Under current law, minor marijuana possession offenses are classified as criminal misdemeanors, punishable by up to 30 days in jail, a criminal record, and the possible loss of driving privileges. According to data from the Virginia Criminal Sentencing Commission, more than 15,000 people were convicted for a first or second marijuana possession offense from July 2018 to June 2019.

    “Virginians have long opposed the criminalization of personal marijuana possession, and Governor Northam’s signature turns that public opinion into public policy,” said NORML Development Director Jenn Michelle Pedini, who also serves as the executive director of the state affiliate, Virginia NORML.

    The new law also seals the criminal records of past marijuana offenders from employers and school administrators, and defines substances previously considered hashish as marijuana.

    The bipartisan, bicameral effort to amend the state’s marijuana possession penalties was led by Senator Adam Ebbin (D-30) and House Majority Leader Delegate Charniele Herring (D-46). Commenting on the bills’ final passage, Sen. Ebbin said, “This is a major step forward for criminal justice reform in Virginia. The prohibition on marijuana has clearly failed, and impacts nearly 30,000 Virginians per year. It’s well past time that we stop doing damage to people’s employment prospects, educational opportunities, and parental rights.

    Delegate Herring added: “[This] is an important step in mitigating racial disparities in the criminal justice system. While marijuana arrests across the nation have decreased, arrests in Virginia have increased. This bill will not eliminate the racial disparities surrounding marijuana, but it will prevent low-level offenders from receiving jail time for simple possession while we move toward legalization in coming years with a framework that addresses both public safety and equity in an emerging market.”

    Governor Northam had previously gone on record in support of decriminalizing marijuana violations and expunging past convictions, as has Attorney General Mark Herring. “Decriminalization is an important first step on Virginia’s path towards legal, regulated adult use, and one many thought was still years away, but we cannot stop now. We’ve shown that smart, progressive reform is possible and we must keep going,” General Herring told Virginia NORML.

    In March, the General Assembly approved multiple bills calling on officials to further study marijuana legalization and to make recommendations to lawmakers in advance of the 2021 legislative session.

    In addition to approving marijuana decriminalization, Gov. Northam also signed Senate Bill 1015, which states that no person may be arrested, prosecuted, or denied any right or privilege for participating in the state’s medical cannabis program. The program is expected to be operational and dispensing cannabis products to authorized patients by mid-year. Northam also approved Senate Bill 976 expanding and improving this program, and suggested technical amendments which must be approved by the legislature before taking effect on July 1.

    “As legislators became more comfortable with medical cannabis products, they recognized that patients and legal guardians of children and incapacitated adults need the protections of lawful possession instead of the affirmative defense. That is what SB 1015 provides — a statutory protection against prosecution, not merely an affirmative defense,” remarked Senator Dave Marsden (D-37), longtime champion of medical cannabis patients in the Commonwealth.

    Added NORML’s Jenn Michelle Pedini: “Later this year, Virginia patients will finally have access to medical cannabis products and explicit legal protections thanks to Senator Marsden’s legislation. Additional dispensing facilities, telemedicine, and program registration for nonresidents are among some of the many legislative improvements we were able to accomplish this year.”

    In total, sixteen marijuana-related bills succeeded in the 2020 Virginia General Assembly.

     

    A complete listing of marijuana-related legislation in the 2020 Virginia General Assembly is available here. For more information, contact Jenn Michelle Pedini, NORML Development Director & Virginia NORML Executive Director.

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director March 11, 2020

    House lawmakers today advanced legislation, HB 550, greatly expanding the pool of marijuana offenders eligible for civil penalties.

    Under the measure, which passed the House by a vote of 93 to 44, offenses involving the possession of up to one ounce of cannabis will be reclassified as a civil, rather, than a criminal violation — punishable by a fine only, no arrest and no criminal record.

    Under existing law, only possession offenses involving ten grams of marijuana or less are decriminalized. The possession of greater amounts is currently punishable by up to one year in jail and a $1,000 fine.

    House Bill 550 now awaits further action from the Maryland Senate.

    “Expanding the decriminalization of low-level marijuana offenses allows police and the courts to re-prioritize their resources toward addressing more serious crimes,” said Luke Jones, Executive Director of Maryland NORML and a proponent of the bill. “Minor marijuana possession offenders, many of them young people, should not be saddled with a criminal record and the lifelong penalties and stigma associated with it.”

    Maryland lawmakers initially decriminalized minor marijuana possession offenses in 2014. Twenty six states and the District of Columbia have either legalized or decriminalized the adult possession and use of marijuana.

  • by Jenn Michelle Pedini, NORML Development Director March 5, 2020

    2020 Virginia General AssemblyBroad changes to marijuana laws swept through the 2020 Virginia General Assembly. Today, the legislature approved SB2 and HB 972  to decriminalize marijuana possession. Those in possession of up to one ounce of cannabis for personal use will no longer be subject to criminal prosecution and will instead face a maximum $25 civil penalty. The bipartisan, bicameral effort led by Senator Adam Ebbin (D-30) and House Majority Leader Delegate Charniele Herring (D-46), also allows for the sealing of records for misdemeanor arrests, charges, convictions, and deferred dispositions for marijuana possession from employers and schools, and redefines extractions previously considered hashish as marijuana. The legislation now heads to Governor Ralph Northam’s desk for approval.

    “This long overdue victory comes after years of sustained effort by Virginia NORML and its members. A supermajority of Virginians have for many years opposed the continued criminalization of personal possession, and the legislature has finally taken action to turn public opinion into public policy,” said NORML Development Director Jenn Michelle Pedini, who also serves as the executive director of the state affiliate, Virginia NORML.

    Commenting on the final passage, Senator Ebbin said, “this is a major step forward for criminal justice reform in Virginia. The prohibition on marijuana has clearly failed, and impacts nearly 30,000 Virginians per year. It’s well past time that we stop doing damage to people’s employment prospects, educational opportunities, and parental rights.”

    Delegate Herring said this “is an important step in mitigating racial disparities in the criminal justice system. While marijuana arrests across the nation have decreased, arrests in Virginia have increased. This bill will not eliminate the racial disparities surrounding marijuana, but it will prevent low-level offenders from receiving jail time for simple possession while we move toward legalization in coming years with a framework that addresses both public safety and equity in an emerging market.”

    Governor Northam has spoken in favor of decriminalizing marijuana violations and expunging past convictions as has Attorney General Mark Herring. “Decriminalization is an important first step on Virginia’s path towards legal, regulated adult use, and one many thought was still years away, but we cannot stop now. We’ve shown that smart, progressive reform is possible and we must keep going,” General Herring told Virginia NORML.

    The legislature has approved multiple bills that call for the study of establishing a regulatory framework for adult-use. This effort is intended to result in legislation and a report in advance of the 2021 Virginia General Assembly.

    Earlier this week, the Virginia legislature also approved Senate Bill 1015 to legalize medical cannabis and Senate Bill 976 to expand and improve the state’s nascent medical program.

    “As legislators became more comfortable with medical cannabis products, they recognized that patients and legal guardians of children and incapacitated adults need the protections of lawful possession instead of the affirmative defense. That is what SB 1015 provides — a statutory protection against prosecution, not merely an affirmative defense,” remarked Senator Dave Marsden (D-37), longtime champion of medical cannabis patients in the Commonwealth.

    “As Virginia’s program finally begins to provide patients access to products in 2020, the explicit legal protections and additional dispensing facilities established by Senator Marsden’s bills are much needed improvements from which patients and caregivers will benefit greatly,” said Pedini.

     

    This post was updated to reflect the passage of SB2  

    A complete listing of marijuana-related legislation in the 2020 Virginia General Assembly is available here. For more information, contact Jenn Michelle Pedini, NORML Development Director & Virginia NORML Executive Director.

    Become a member Virginia NORML and join the fight to reform marijuana laws in the Commonwealth. Follow them on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

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