The District of Columbia may have legalized marijuana, but be careful when straying into neighboring Virginia. The state has some tough penalties for marijuana offenders. Never mind the fact that distribution of half an ounce triggers a mandatory one-year prison sentence, just being in possession of that much makes you a drug dealer under Virginia law.
If you go to D.C. as a marijuana tourist, this is definitely one state you want to avoid on the way back. That will all change next year if one legislator succeeds in his plans.
State Senator Adam Ebbin represents the 30th Senate District, which includes Arlington and Alexandria. He filed SB 686 on Halloween for consideration after the new session begins in January. The bill would reduce penalties for possession of less than an ounce of marijuana from a criminal misdemeanor to a $100 civil violation. Penalties for cultivation would also be reduced.
While growing marijuana would still be illegal, the bill creates a presumption that a person growing no more than six plants is doing so for personal use. The provision adds that such possession will be penalized the same as simple possession. Under the current law, manufacture or growing marijuana carries a penalty of five to 30 years in prison. The bill would change that to a class one misdemeanor for distribution and $100 fine for personal use.
A June 2013 report from the ACLU said that Virginia had the 12th most marijuana arrests of all 50 states. The study added that black Virginians were nearly three times more likely than whites to be arrested for marijuana in 2010. According to the Marijuana Policy Project, over 20,000 people were arrested for simple marijuana possession in 2012. That’s over 600,000 days in jail and $10 million in fines in a single year.
The bill has been referred to the Committee for Courts Justice for hearing after the new year. Decriminalization in Virginia was last proposed in 2012. That bill didn’t get a vote.