Will Virginia become the 27th state to decriminalize or legalize marijuana?
Virginia seems on track to decriminalize marijuana. But what can we expect from the state in 2020?
First, we need to understand what’s happening in Virginia.
Recent Progress in Virginia Cannabis
Another brick in the wall of cannabis legislation progression. The Virginia Senate, controlled by the Democrat party, approved a bill on February 3rd that, if passed, will take away the jail time people have been experiencing for simple marijuana possession. Instead, they will receive a civil penalty with a fine in first-time offense instances. The day before, the Virginia House approved a comparable bill that would decriminalize cannabis.
While this decriminalization is a step in the right direction, it’s not marijuana legalization. The decriminalization penalties are low-level, such as a fine. Even though the penalties are no longer as extreme, marijuana sales are still illegal. If legalization were to take effect, the penalties for marijuana possession would no longer exist, and the state would permit its sale.
Some people are in favor of decriminalization, even as opponents of legalization. They believe decriminalization is a step in the right direction that would trade the punitive and costly policies currently in place for a better alternative. However, they believe full legalization could be problematic, making cannabis too accessible while encouraging big corporations to market and distribute the drug irresponsibly.
Even with some people being against legalization, advocates of legalization believe that decriminalization isn’t necessarily the right move. Since the ban on selling marijuana remains, users still wouldn’t have a legal source to get it, meaning that criminal organizations would still have control over the distribution. These criminal organizations can use cannabis revenue to finance violent operations. And while the fines aren’t as bad as arrests and prison sentences, there’s also the issue of these fines being disproportionately given to members of certain races.
Decriminalization isn’t the choice for many activists, including the Virginia chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union. They believe that the bill will not do anything to impact the ideas surrounding prohibition, promoting outright legalization rather than making small moves towards the inevitable future of cannabis in Virginia.
Even though some people oppose outright marijuana legalization in Virginia, some state lawmakers and other activists stand by their idea that even little progress is still progress. With Democrats in control of Virginia’s legislature, they’re moving to decriminalize.
What Do Marijuana Laws in The US Tell Us?
Since decriminalization has already been set in motion, we’re expecting activists in Virginia to begin working on legalization. And while legalization is expected to expand throughout the US throughout 2020, we’re still waiting on a southern state to legalize cannabis fully.
Some wonder about the benefits of legalization. The main argument here is that it mitigates the adverse effects of cannabis prohibition. And when considering the hundreds of thousands of arrests made throughout the country, the racial disparities regarding these arrests, and the billions of dollars being placed into the black market, legalization has the potential to make the US a better country. While there might be an increase in cannabis use with legalization, the benefits far outweigh these issues.
Senator Adam Ebbin, D-Alexandria, says, “This means close to 30,000 people a year will no longer be labeled as criminals and no longer suffer the native repercussions of a criminal conviction.” While this is a significant win for the people, the industry still needs to thrive to support the people who need a safe way to obtain their medicine.
So far, eleven states have made marijuana legal. Washington, DC has also legalized marijuana. At this point, although both Vermont and DC aren’t allowing sales. However, we have fifteen other states (16, once Virginia hops on board) that have decriminalized cannabis.
Final Outcomes [for now] for Virginia Marijuana
The new legislation passed in Virginia still prohibits cannabis. However, the violations will set a $25 civil fine for possession of up to an ounce of cannabis or products like hash and oil concentrates. Through this legislation, we will also see the records of past and future convictions sealed. It also prohibits employers and educational institutes from asking about the violations, although law enforcement agencies can still inquire about these violations.
Until July 2020, posing a half-ounce or less in Virginia can result in as many as 30 days in jail and a $500 fine. Possessing hash or other concentrates is a felony punishable by more significant penalties and driver’s license suspensions.
While the decriminalization bill won bipartisan support in both chambers and Governor Ralph Northam agreed to the final bill, it won’t go into effect until July 1. Once this happens, Virginia will be the 26th state that has taken a stand against total prohibition (by decriminalizing or legalizing cannabis use).
Jenn Michelle Pedini, executive director of Virginia NORML, the state chapter of the National Organization for the Reform Marijuana Laws, is quoted as saying, “This is an enormous victory for Virginians, a supermajority of whom have for many years opposed the continued criminalization of marijuana possession.”
Lawmakers’ Plans for 2021
Senator Northam has been quoted discussing how he does not yet support full legalization for marijuana. Furthermore, House lawmakers have rejected these kinds of proposals in the past.
However, Virginia’s House and Senate have agreed to study legalization proposals and look them over once more next year. Senator Ebbin said, “As soon as we get these studies concluded, I think we’ll have a better sense of how quickly that sort of thing can move through.”
But this doesn’t compare to the tweet sent out by Senator Scott Surovell, D-Arlington, pictured below.
So will legalization happen in Virginia in 2021? As the anticipation for change in the way Virginia sees this plan grows, we can only hope decriminalization leads to legalization, enabling the cannabis industry to thrive as it serves Virginians in need of some herbal healing.
What do you think about decriminalization? Is it enough for now, or are you still hoping for marijuana legalization in Virginia? We’d love to hear your thoughts!
Get a Virginia Medical Marijuana Card Now
For those considering a Virginia medical marijuana card, CannabisRxHealth is ready to help. Feel free to reach out to us at any time via call or text at 703–861–1136.
Our medical professionals can answer questions and guide you to get your Virginia cannabis certification. We’ll make the process as easy as possible.
For more information about marijuana-related legislation in the 2020 Virginia general assembly, check out Virginia NORML here.