Virginia moves toward marijuana decriminalization

House passed decriminalization bill HB972, Senate expected to follow suit

RICHMOND, Va. – Virginia is moving toward decriminalizing simple possession of marijuana.

The state House on Monday passed a decriminalization bill, HB972, with bipartisan support.

The state Senate is expected to pass its own version and Gov. Ralph Northam has signaled his support for the measure.

If passed, the legislation would scrap criminal charges for simple possession and replace them with small fines. It would create a $25 civil penalty for simple possession, which will not result in any court costs or criminal record and further seals all previous simple possession of marijuana arrests, criminal charges and convictions, according to the House Democratic Caucus.

Supporters have argued the measure is needed in part because African Americans are disproportionately charged with drug crimes.

“Since this issue disproportionately affects people of color, it is an important first step in combating the racial disparities in the Virginia criminal justice system,” said Majority Leader Charniele Herring (D-Alexandria).

A measure to legalize marijuana failed earlier this year. This legislation would make Virginia the 27th state (plus the District of Columbia) to decriminalize possession of marijuana in small amounts.