By LeeWEpstein

July 7, 2020


In the aftermath of the implementation of cannabis decriminalization in Virginia, state legislators announced that they were already working towards full legalization.

While their initiative is not expected to be ready until 2021, legislators have defined legalization as necessary in the struggle for social and racial justice.

The decriminalization of cannabis is an important step in reducing racial disparities in the criminal justice system, but much work remains to be done,” said House Majority Leader Charniele Herring. “While cannabis-related arrests across the country have declined, arrests in Virginia have increased.

The decriminalization of cannabis came into effect last Wednesday in Virginia. The new law, which was passed this year, removes criminal penalties for the possession of small amounts of cannabis. Having up to 1 ounce (28g) of cannabis on one’s person is now punishable by a $25 fine, with no jail time or criminal record.

Previously, Virginia punished simple possession of cannabis with up to 30 days in jail, a $500 fine, and a criminal record.

This bill will prevent petty criminals from serving jail time for simple possession while we move towards legalization with a framework that addresses both public safety and racial equity in an emerging market,” said Charniele Herring on decriminalization.

The decriminalization text also contains a provision to consider future legalization. Several state agencies will have to meet, including “the secretaries of agriculture and forestry, finance, health, and human resources, public safety and homeland security,” and convene an expert working group to study the issue. The report of this panel is due in November.

A separate legislative body, the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Committee (JLARC), is also studying the effects of possible legalization following another resolution approved by legislators this year. Legislators said Thursday that the JLARC report, due in December, would explain the basis for future legalization, which is expected to be tabled in 2021.

Elements of the JLARC study include a review of best practices from states such as Illinois that have developed a legal framework, testing and labeling recommendations and measures to reduce illegal sales,” a press release said. “The study will also examine how best to provide redress and economic opportunities to communities disproportionately affected by marijuana prohibition, and recommend programs and policies to reinvest in affected communities.

Ebbin said that despite the significant step of decriminalization, the state still had a long way to go.

Today, Virginia is taking an important first step in reducing the harm caused by the criminalization of cannabis,” he said in a statement. “The ban on cannabis has failed and the consequence of that failure has been felt overwhelmingly by Virginians of color, but it is not over. It will not end until it is replaced by a regulated adult market that emphasizes fairness, reaching out to those most affected [by prohibition] and ensuring they can have a place in the new market. We look forward to doing the work necessary to succeed.

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