Are Virginia Lawmakers Planning to Decriminalize Marijuana in 2020 or 2021?
Decriminalizing marijuana is said to be at the top of Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam’s criminal justice reform agenda for 2020. But does it mean that Virginia could legalize marijuana as early as 2020 or 2021?
According to Marijuana Moment, Gov. Northam outlined a list of legislative priorities, and cannabis decriminalization was among them. He reportedly wants to make simple possession of marijuana in Virginia punishable by a $50 fine without any jail time. However, the plan does not specify the amount of weed that would fall into this category.
Virginia Gov.’s Initiative to Decriminalize Marijuana
The governor’s initiative also features a provision that would introduce expungements for those with prior marijuana possession convictions in Virginia. The initiative, if signed into law, could dramatically transform Virginia’s criminal defense landscape.
In a press release, Northam said that his proposed criminal justice reform legislation is designed to “combat mass incarceration,” “ensure meaningful second chances for those who have paid their debts to society,” and “increase supports for returning citizens.” He also added that he would be working with the General Assembly to pass the proposed reform into law.
Another proposed initiative in Northam’s reform would be ending the policy of suspending driver’s licenses over drug crimes or failure to pay jail fees.
Could This Be a Step Toward Legalizing Marijuana in Virginia?
In fact, a lawmaker has recently introduced a decriminalization bill that would make possession punishable by a $50 fine. The bill was filed after Democrats reclaimed control of both chambers of the General Assembly in November 2019. It is unclear whether Northam will back the existing bill or is planning to introduce his own decriminalization bill.
Attorney General Mark Herring (D), who is running for governor in 2021, hosted a cannabis summit in December. During the summit, Herring reiterated his support for legalizing marijuana in Virginia. “The time for cannabis reform has come,” Herring announced.
Decriminalization and expungements could be the first steps toward a broader marijuana reform in Virginia. In fact, there is already legislation that would create a legalized recreational marijuana market in Virginia. The legislation has been filed for Virginia’s 2020 session.
Current Penalties for Possession, Sale, and Manufacture of Marijuana in Virginia
While Virginia lawmakers are yet to weigh on the governor’s imitative, state law currently imposes the following penalties for the possession of marijuana:
- Possession (misdemeanor). Jail time of 30 days and a $500 fine for less than 1/2 oz of weed (first offense).
- Possession (misdemeanor). Jail time of 1 year and a $2,500 fine for less than 1/2 oz of cannabis (subsequent offense).
The following penalties apply for the sale, manufacture, and trafficking of cannabis in Virginia (all felonies):
- Selling 1/2 oz to 5 lbs. is punishable by up to 10 years in jail and a $2,500 fine.
- Selling from 5 lbs. to 100 kg is punishable by up to 30 years of incarceration and a $1,000 fine.
- If more than 100 kg is sold, the defendant is facing a life sentence and a $100,000 fine.
- Sale of marijuana to a minor who is at least three years younger is punishable by up to 50 years in jail and a $100,000 fine.
- Selling weed 1,000 ft of a school or school bus carries the risk of incarceration for up to 5 years and a $100,000 fine.
- Manufacturing marijuana is punishable by up to 30 years of jail time and a $10,000 fine while transporting more than 5 lbs. into Virginia carries the risk of 40 years in jail and a $1,000,000 penalty.
Discuss your options if you are facing any of these penalties for a drug crime in Leesburg or elsewhere in Virginia. Let our Leesburg criminal attorneys create the most appropriate marijuana defense strategy for your case. Contact Whitbeck Cisneros McElroy, PC, to consult. Call at 703-997-4982 today.