Virginia takes a small step forward toward sensible marijuana policy
Last update: September 14, 2015
Early this year, HB 1445 passed both chambers, and on February 26, 2015, Gov. Terry McAuliffe signed it into law. This extremely narrow law provides some small relief to a very minute percentage of the commonwealth’s patients who could benefit from access to medical cannabis. It allows patients with intractable epilepsy to avoid a conviction, but not an arrest, for possessing certain low- or no-THC medical cannabis oils. It does not provide for any in-state access to these treatments.
A Quinnipiac poll released in April 2015 found that 86% of Virginia voters support the legalization of medical marijuana.
According to the Virginia Uniform Crime Report, there were 22,948 marijuana arrests in 2014. Currently, possessing up to half an ounce (14 grams) of marijuana is a misdemeanor that carries up to 30 days in jail and a $500 fine for first time offenders. Subsequent offenses face up to a year in jail and a $2,500 fine.
Virginia is surrounded by states that take more sensible approaches to marijuana. In 2014, lawmakers in Washington, D.C. and Maryland decriminalized simple marijuana possession. (Subsequently, Washington, D.C. voters legalized the adult use, possession, and cultivation of limited amounts of marijuana.) Meanwhile, on Virginia’s southern border, North Carolina has had a weak decriminalization law on the books since the 1970s.
In January, Sen. Adam Ebbin introduced SB 686, which would have replaced the severe existing criminal penalties for personal possession of marijuana with a $100 civil fine. Unfortunately, later that month, the bill was indefinitely stalled by the Senate Court of Justice Committee in a vote along party lines, with five Democrats in support and nine Republicans opposed.
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.
To stay updated on the status of marijuana policy reform in Virginia, be sure to subscribe to MPP’s free legislative alert service.