The governor of Virginia announced on Sunday that he had approved a bill to decriminalize cannabis in his state. The legislation, which will take possession of one ounce (28g) of cannabis punishable by a $25 fine without jail time and a criminal record, was passed by the legislature and sent to the governor’s office in February.
Until now, Virginia punished simple possession with a maximum fine of $500, a maximum of 30 days in prison and a criminal record.
Democratic Governor Ralph Northam approved the legislation without a public signing ceremony due to the coronavirus outbreak. He also called for further consideration of the possibility of legalizing cannabis.
Ralph Northam has also signed several other cannabis-related bills in recent days. He has officially legalized medical cannabis, which until now has been based solely on the affirmative defense of patients, i.e. the recognition of an offense that is nevertheless justified by their medical condition, has allowed access to medical cannabis by patients from other states and temporarily residing in Virginia. He also requested that consideration be given to expanding the medical cannabis program to include flowers rather than oil alone.
A resolution asking the Joint Commission on Audit and Legislative Review to issue recommendations on legalizing cannabis for adult use was also approved by the legislature in March.
Attorney General Mark Herring, who will run to replace the Governor in 2021, welcomed the resolution while calling for further action.
Our approach to cannabis has unnecessarily imposed a criminal record on Virginians, particularly African Americans and people of color. This is a new day in the Commonwealth,” Herring said in a press release. “Decriminalization is an incredibly important first step that many thought they would never see in Virginia, but we can’t stop until we have legal and regulated use for adults. With this law, we are moving Virginia toward an even more just and equal place. This year we have shown that smart, progressive reform is possible here in the Commonwealth and we must continue on that path.
Virginia is the 27th state in the United States to decriminalize cannabis and the first to do so in 2020. Last year, three states, New Mexico, Hawaii and North Dakota, also approved the policy change.