Virginia takes a small step forward toward sensible marijuana policy
Last update: February 27, 2015
After several years without legislative action, a slew of marijuana policy reform bills were introduced this session. One of the bills — Del. David Albo’s HB 1445 — was signed into law. This new law will provide some extremely limited relief to a tiny percent of the state’s patients who could benefit from medical cannabis. It will allow patients with intractable epilepsy to avoid a conviction — but not an arrest — for possessing certain medical cannabis oils. It does not provide for any in-state access. Details are available here.
Meanwhile, Sen. Adam Ebbin led the charge with SB 686, which would have replaced criminal penalties for personal possession of marijuana with a $100 civil fine. Unfortunately, the bill has already been axed by the Senate Court of Justice Committee in a vote along party lines, with five Democrats in support and nine Republicans opposed.
This committee’s verdict is not representative of public opinion. A poll released in January reported that seven in 10 Virginia voters support decriminalizing small amounts of marijuana.
Just last year, lawmakers in Washington, D.C. and Maryland decriminalized simple possession of marijuana. Meanwhile, on Virginia’s southern border, North Carolina has had a weak decriminalization law on the books since the 1970s. Please write your legislators and ask them to support the will of their constituents next session. You can ask them to call for the state to legalize marijuana and regulate it like alcohol, or to take a more modest reform such as citing and fining – rather than arresting and criminalizing – marijuana users.
Learn more about Virginia’s marijuana laws
Did you know that in Virginia, of the 23,402 marijuana-related arrests reported by state law enforcement in 2012, 89% were for mere possession? That same year, nearly half of all reported rapes and 80% of all burglaries were not solved. In Virginia, possession of even a single joint is punishable by up to 30 days of incarceration along with a $500 fine.
Although African Americans and whites use marijuana at nearly the same rate, the enforcement of marijuana laws has been far from equal. This report by the ACLU found that blacks are about three times as likely to be arrested for marijuana possession as whites.
To stay updated on the status of marijuana policy reform in Virginia, be sure to subscribe to MPP’s free legislative alert service.