Virginia Governor Signs New Law Decriminalizing Marijuana Possession
Starting July 1st, a first offense of marijuana possession will no longer be considered a drug crime in Virginia, according to an article by ABC affiliate WHSV. When the governor signed House Bill 972 into law, it effectively decriminalized marijuana possession across Virginia. The house bill incorporates several other measures and is the same as Senate Bill 2.
Proponents of House Bill 972 and Senate Bill 2 argue that current marijuana laws disproportionately impact lower-income and disenfranchised groups. By stripping the criminal penalties from simple possession of marijuana, it will help address criminal justice inequalities for these groups.
After the effective date of July 1st, these new laws will make various adjustments to Virginia marijuana statutes, including possession, distribution, and possession with intent to distribute.
What are the New Laws Concerning Marijuana Possession?
Starting July 1st, possession of up to one ounce of marijuana will become a civil offense punishable by a maximum of $25 in fines. That is substantially more lenient than the existing Virginia laws under Code of Virginia Section 18.2-250.1.
Currently, a first offense results in a maximum penalty of 30 days in jail and $500 in fines. A second or subsequent qualifies as a Class 1 misdemeanor, punishable by up to 12 months in county jail and $2,500 in fines.
It is worth noting that the new laws do not address medical marijuana. As detailed in Code of Virginia Section 18.2-251.1, medical use of marijuana is permitted under state law; however, any such medical use must be pursuant to a valid prescription from a licensed medical professional. Those laws will remain the same for now.
Will There Be Any Change to Marijuana Distribution Crimes?
On July 1st, the amount threshold will increase for marijuana distribution or possession of marijuana with intent to distribute, under Code of Virginia Section 18.2-248.1. The present laws have an initial threshold of one-half ounce of marijuana. The new threshold will be one ounce. For example, distribution or possession of marijuana with intent to distribute:
- One ounce or less — Results in Class 1 misdemeanor charges, punishable as described in the previous section;
- Between one ounce & five pounds — Results in Class 5 felony charges, punishable by a maximum of 10 years in prison and $100,000 in fines; or
- More than five pounds — Results in felony charges, punishable by a maximum of 30 years in prison and $100,000 in fines.
Additionally, the new laws include a rebuttable presumption concerning personal possession. If a person has one ounce or less of marijuana, it will be assumed that it is for personal use. Additional evidence presented, however, could overcome this presumption and enable charges for possession with intent to distribute.
Do You Need Legal Help?
If you need legal help with Virginia charges for marijuana possession or distribution, it can be exceedingly constructive to contact an accomplished criminal defense lawyer. The Leesburg drug crimes lawyers at Simms Showers LLP have numerous years of combined legal experience in the field of criminal defense, including marijuana possession and distribution crimes. If you need legal help with criminal defense, contact us today for a free initial consultation.