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Revised Marijuana Decriminalization Legislation Moves Closer to Governor’s Desk

State Capitol at night
Lawmakers plan to decriminalize marijuana in the commonwealth. (Photo: Craig Carper/ VPM News)

Lawmakers have fine tuned some of the details of a plan to decriminalize possession of marijuana in the commonwealth, including the amount of the fine for possession of small amounts of marijuana. 

The latest version of the legislation makes possession of up to an ounce of marijuana a civil penalty, punishable by a $25 fine. Juveniles who are caught with the drug would be treated as delinquents, rather than what state law calls a “child in need of service.” Advocates prefer the latter, which they say is less punitive.  

Law enforcement would still be allowed to search someone’s vehicle if they smelled marijuana. Criminal justice reform advocates say the “smell” excuse is disproportionately used by police to search people of color.  

“Honestly, until it’s legalized, I don’t think we can constrain law enforcement on their observations,” said Del. Charniele Herring (D-Alexandria), who sponsored the House version of the bill.  

The House and Senate still disagree about whether to toss out criminal records for previous marijuana offenses or seal them from the public. 

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, Virginia would become the 27th state to decriminalize simple possession of marijuana, eliminating the threat of jail time. 

Currently, possession in Virginia is punishable by a $500 fine and up to 30 days in jail.


Whittney Evans is VPM News’ features editor.
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