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Virginia Takes First Step Toward Marijuana Decriminalization

Person holds sign reading "repeal marijuana prohibition"
At an event earlier this month, the ACLU of Virginia and other organizations called for marijuana legalization. (Photo by Crixell Matthews/VPM)

A bill to decriminalize marijuana in the Commonwealth is a step closer to becoming law. But legislators are still working to untangle key details as it moves through the process, including how possession will be handled for adults versus juveniles and how expungement will work. 

“Today Virginia took a historic step forward,” said Jenn Michelle Pedini, executive director of the Virginia Chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Law (NORML). “This is the first time a decriminalization measure has really gained any traction and really broad, bipartisan support.”

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria), passed out of a 7-member subcommittee of the Senate Judiciary Committee with the support of one Republican. 

It would remove the possibility of jail time, but still include financial penalties of up to $50 for simple possession of marijuana, which is less than half an ounce. Right now a first-time offender faces a 30-day jail sentence and a maximum fine of $500.  

Pedini said her organization would prefer the Commonwealth legalize the adult use of cannabis.  

“But the fact remains that decriminalization is the policy that is prioritized by the governor in this legislative session,” Pedini said. “And our focus is ensuring that whatever that step looks like it’s the best possible version.”

The ACLU of Virginia is opposed to the legislation because they say communities of color will still be subject to disproportionate enforcement. 

“We do not have a perfect bill here yet, but we are moving the ball forward,” said Sen. Joe Morrissey (D-Richmond). 

The bill will be heard next by the full Senate Judiciary Committee.