Virginia Becomes the 27th State to Decriminalize Cannabis Possession

Gov. Ralph Northam has signed legislation to decriminalize cannabis into law.

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Washington, D.C. — PRESS RELEASE — On Thursday, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam signed legislation to decriminalize cannabis into law, making Virginia the 27th state in the nation to decriminalize simple cannabis possession.

Late last month, Virginia lawmakers met for a one-day session where they considered Gov. Ralph Northam’s formal amendments to the bill. The legislature ultimately sent the bill back to the governor’s desk after rejecting two of the amendments. With the governor’s signature, the law will take effect on July 1, 2020.

SB 2/HB 972 reclassifies possession of one ounce of cannabis or less to a civil penalty punishable by a fine of up to $25, the lowest fine of any decriminalization law in the country. Currently, cannabis possession in Virginia is classified as a criminal offense punishable by up to 30 days in jail and/or up to a $500 fine.

Virginia now joins the majority of states—including Maryland and North Carolina—that have implemented a decriminalization or legalization law to stop jailing their residents for possession of small amounts of cannabis.

In 2018, nearly 29,000 arrests were made in Virginia for cannabis offenses, a number that has tripled since 1999. Cannabis arrests accounted for 59% of the total drug arrests in the state.

Steve Hawkins, executive director at the Marijuana Policy Project, said, “The move to decriminalize cannabis possession in Virginia is long overdue. We applaud the legislature and the governor for implementing a policy that will allow law enforcement to focus resources on more serious crimes and prevent Virginians from having their lives derailed for possessing cannabis, a substance that is safer than alcohol.”

Olivia Naugle, legislative analyst at the Marijuana Policy Project, said, “The just and fair decision made by Virginia’s elected officials to decriminalize cannabis is commendable. This legislation is supported by a majority of Virginians and will reduce needless cannabis possession arrests across the state, saving thousands of Virginia residents from life-altering criminal records for simple possession.”

Jenn Michelle Pedini, executive director at Virginia NORML, said, “Today’s victory is a result of years of dedicated effort by Virginia NORML and marijuana law reform supporters across the Commonwealth. We’re thrilled to see that public opinion is one step closer to becoming public policy."