Virginia General Assembly Passes Competing Bills to Decriminalize Marijuana
Both chambers of the Virginia General Assembly approved bills to decriminalize simple possession of marijuana, according to an article by NBC affiliate WCYB. If these measures become law, possession of less than 1/2 ounce of marijuana would not result in charges for a drug crime.
On Monday, February 10th, the Virginia House passed HB 972 by a vote of 64-34. The next day, the Virginia Senate passed SB 2 by a vote of 27-13. Even though both bills would accomplish the same end – decriminalizing possession of less than 1/2 ounce – there are subtle differences between the two.
The House bill seeks to impose a maximum fine of $25 for possession of less than 1/2 ounce of marijuana. On the other hand, the Senate bill seeks to impose a maximum penalty of $50 or community service for up to 5 hours. The Senate bill would also increase the threshold for decriminalizing distribution crimes from 1/2 to 1 ounce.
The House bill also includes provisions that affect background checks. This bill would prohibit employers and schools from requiring disclosure of arrests, charges, or convictions for simple possession of marijuana. Similarly, government agencies would not be able to require disclosure of these crimes for licenses, permits, registrations, or services.
Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring provided his support of these initiatives, stating, “Passing decriminalization in both the House and the Senate is a really important first step in the right direction on Virginia’s journey towards legal and regulated adult use, but this cannot be the end.”
At this point, the Virginia House and Senate will debate to iron out the differences between their bills. Ideally, the combined legislature will reach a mutual agreement and send a finalized bill to the governor for review and execution.
While the Virginia House and Senate debate the differences between their competing bills, it feels appropriate to review Virginia laws against and penalties for possession of marijuana.
What are the Virginia Laws Against Marijuana Possession?
Code of Virginia Section 18.2-250.1 establishes the laws against marijuana possession. Outside of medical exceptions and other approved uses, it is unlawful to knowingly possess marijuana in Virginia.
The knowledge requirement is crucial, in this context. A person must know – or be expected to know – that they are in possession of marijuana. Absent this knowledge, it does not qualify as a violation of Virginia law.
What are the Virginia Penalties for Marijuana Possession?
Section 18.2-250.1 also lays out the penalties for unlawful marijuana possession. Under the current law, possessing any amount of marijuana can result in the following penalties:
- First Violation – Leads to misdemeanor charges with the possibility of confinement for 30 days fines up to $500; or
- Second or Subsequent Violation – Results in Class 1 misdemeanor charges with the possibility of confinement for 12 months and fines up to $2,500.
Do You Need Legal Help?
If you have legal questions about drug crimes in Virginia, it can be highly constructive to reach out to a seasoned criminal defense lawyer. The Leesburg drug crime lawyers at Simms Showers LLP feature extensive experience with criminal defense, including various types of drug crimes. If you need legal help with criminal defense, contact us today for a free initial consultation.