Virginia is one of many states that has already legalized medical marijuana for certain patients. Now, however, it joins a growing movement to largely decriminalize possession of small amounts of the drug completely. Lawmakers have passed legislation decriminalizing marijuana to Gov. Ralph Northam to sign in to law.
If he does, marijuana will still be considered an illegal substance, but those caught with up to an ounce of the herb or products (including hash and oils) will be treated like they’ve essentially committed a minor traffic infraction. The fine for possession of an ounce or less will be $25. The new laws will also seal the criminal records of those convicted in the past or future of possession of the drug.
That’s a big switch. Right now, possession of just a half-ounce of the drug can get you 30 days in jail and a $500 fine.
Here’s why this is so important: It will keep about 30,000 people (by the state’s own estimates) each year from being labeled “criminals” due to marijuana possession. Universities and potential employers will also no longer be able to see the records of those previously convicted, which means that there will be fewer economic or educational barriers presented to people as the result of their convictions.
Perhaps most importantly, the legislation keeps people from ending up in jail over a minor offense that isn’t even considered a crime in some other states right now. That not only reduces the burden on the state for their care, but it also prevents a lot of people from ending up in a downward financial spiral they might never recover from over what is largely seen these days as an inoffensive act.
None of this means, however, applies if you’re charged with possession of a larger amount or trafficking marijuana. If you’re facing drug charges, have an experienced defense attorney by your side.