Democratic Governor Ralph Northam of Virginia signs law decriminalizing marijuana possession

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Democratic Governor Ralph Northam has approved legislation (Senate Bill 2 | House Bill 972) decriminalizing marijuana possession offenses. Northam also recommended technical amendments which must be approved by the legislature before the new law takes effect July 1, 2020.

The Virginia House of Delegates had previously approved HB972 from Majority Leader Charniele Herring to decriminalize simple marijuana possession and create a $25 civil penalty for simple possession, which will not result in any court costs or criminal record and further seals all previous simple possession of marijuana arrests, criminal charges, and convictions.

It is believed that this will reduce the burden on the criminal justice system and public safety agencies in Virginia by allowing agencies to focus their limited resources on more serious offenses. Virginia will establish a work group to study the impact on the Commonwealth of legalizing the sale and personal use of marijuana, to complete its work and report its recommendations by November 1, 2021.

This legislation will make Virginia the 27th state (plus the District of Columbia) to decriminalize possession of marijuana in small amounts.

“This bill decriminalizes simple marijuana possession in the Commonwealth. Since this issue disproportionately affects people of color, it is an important first step in combating the racial disparities in the Virginia criminal justice system. The reality is we are not ready for equitable legalization of marijuana in Virginia. We will continue to work on our regulations and laws regarding the use of marijuana, but today is a huge step forward for the Commonwealth” said Majority Leader Charniele Herring (D-Alexandria).

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