News, Politics

Virginia is Seeing Progress with Cannabis Reform and Decriminalization

July 25, 2020 11:30 am ET
Virginia is Seeing Progress with Cannabis Reform and Decriminalization

Cannabis decriminalization recently took place in Virginia. A new law has been signed by Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D). The new law is a form of decriminalization and removing criminal penalties for low-level cannabis possession. An ounce of cannabis is now punishable by a $25 fine and no threat of jail time or a criminal record. The previous punishment was $500 fine, 30 days in jail, and a long-term criminal record.

Strong Support for Further Reform

Just one day after the new cannabis decriminalization law went into effect in Virginia, lawmakers announced they were already looking at full cannabis legalization. They seem to see the importance of ending outdated laws regarding cannabis. The Senate Democratic Caucus also let everyone know it would be pursuing a bill during the special session next month to stop law enforcement searches of people or vehicles based solely on the smell of cannabis. Supporters of these changes believe that old laws enable discriminatory law enforcement tactics.

House Majority Leader Charniele Herring (D), a member of the Virginia House of Delegates since 2009, was quoted in a press release saying, “Decriminalizing marijuana is an important step in mitigating racial disparities in the criminal justice system, but there is still much work to do. While marijuana arrests across the nation have decreased, arrests in Virginia have increased.”  She also noted that “This bill will prevent low-level offenders from receiving jail time for simple possession while we move toward legalization with a framework that addresses both public safety and racial equity in an emerging market.”

The ACLU Seeks Amendments to Virginia’s New Regulations

While the new laws are great news for many people, they are still flawed. The ACLU of Virginia has sent a request for amendments to legislation in hopes of refining the new laws to ensure equality and fairness. According to their website, “The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Virginia is a private, non-profit organization that promotes civil liberties and civil rights for everyone in the Commonwealth through public education, litigation, and advocacy with the goal of securing freedom and equality for all.”

The ACLU requested that legislation be amended to ensure that the law does not continue to do the following:

  • Give police officers and Commonwealth’s attorneys the discretion to arrest and charge people with a felony for simple possession under an ounce by arguing that the person had an intent to distribute (which could include giving a joint to a friend).
  • Criminalize our youth, take away their driver’s licenses for non-related driving offenses, and require drug screening by defining possession of an ounce or less by a juvenile as a criminal act – a “delinquency.”
  • Leave out communities directly impacted by cannabis criminalization from the workgroup tasked to address 2021 cannabis legislation.

Cannabis prohibition was built on a foundation of racism and lies. This victimless crime has allowed law enforcement to unfairly pursue, harass, and incarcerate minorities and the poor. Cannabis reform is a hot topic because it affects the lives of so many. In a united nation, where cannabis legalization has taken place in over half of the country, lawmakers who still support draconian cannabis prohibition can rest assured to be met with strong opposition. 

A Strong Case for Cannabis Reform

Organizations such as the Virginia ACLU and NORML are standing up to these lawmakers with facts and statistics to help ensure a positive change for all of Virginia. Changing laws here helps influence a positive change in cannabis reform in other places that it hasn’t gained enough momentum yet like seen in Nashville TN where they also recently decriminalized small amounts of cannabis.

The development and executive director of NORML’s Virginia chapter, Jenn Michelle Pedini, makes a strong case for cannabis legalization and reform stating the following;

“For far too long, young people, poor people, and people of color have been disproportionately impacted by cannabis criminalization, and Virginia must take immediate steps to right these past wrongs and undo the damage that prohibition has waged upon hundreds of thousands of Virginians. It is time to legalize and regulate the responsible use of cannabis by adults in the Commonwealth.” 

You can help support positive cannabis reform laws by letting your elected leaders know how you feel about them with a quick phone call or an email. A single seed can tip the scales of injustice helping to end decades-old outdated cannabis prohibition laws. You could be that seed.

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