A House of Representatives Subcommittee in Virginia has passed legislation that would reduce the penalty for first time marijuana possession charges.
The proposal – Senate Bill 954 – would reduce “the penalties for possession of marijuana to a fine of not more than $500”, and would allow for such charges to be expunged (removed) from criminal records (for someone’s first offense). Under current law minor marijuana possession can result in a fine as well as up to 30 days in jail. The proposed law states that those wanting to expunge a past marijuana conviction must pay a $150 fee, which would be directed to the Heroin and Prescription Opioid Epidemic Fund.
The House Committee for Courts of Justice Subcommittee passed the measure in a 7 to 1 vote. Last month the the full Virginia Senate approved the bill 38 to 2. Senator Thomas Norment, the measure’s primary sponsor, says that although the measure is far from perfect and not as progressive as he’d prefer, it still “makes a substantial step forward.”
The proposal now moves towards a vote of the full House of Representatives; passage would send it to Governor Ralph Northam for final consideration. If signed into law by Governor Northam, or allowed to become law without his signature, the portion of the measure reducing the marijuana penalty would take effect July 1 of this year, while the remainder of the bill would take effect on January 1, 2019. The full text of Senate Bill 954 can be found by clicking here.
According to a Wason Center for Public Policy poll released this month, 76% of Virginia voters support decriminalizing marijuana possession.