Members of the Virginia State Crime Commission are seeking written comments from the public regarding the topic of decriminalizing marijuana possession. Under current Virginia law, the possession of one-half ounce of cannabis or less is classified as a criminal misdemeanor, punishable by up to 30 days in jail and a $ 500 fine.
The commission is studying the issue at the request of Senate Majority Leader Thomas Norment, who tasked members to “undertake a study examining a future change to the Code of Virginia regarding criminal penalties related to the possession of small amounts of marijuana.” The procedurally required study will be completed October 5 in preparation for the 2018 legislative session.
Members of the public may submit comments until August 25, 2017. The commission’s findings will be presented on October 5.
Specifically, the study may examine:
- Consequences experienced by any state that has changed the emphasis of its laws regarding possession of small amounts of marijuana from criminal to civil penalties.
- Contemporary research related to marijuana and its effects on users, especially any studies indicating a correlation between its usage and that of opioids or illegal stimulants (methamphetamine and cocaine) as a possible “gateway” drug.
- The status and strength of current Virginia law related to driving under the influence of marijuana, and the efficacy of existing available technology related to the detection of such use that is admissible in criminal proceedings.
- Requirements by the federal government and its agencies related to the Commonwealth’s laws and enforcement of criminal penalties for marijuana possession, including any potential ramifications to the Commonwealth if its laws were in conflict with current federal statutes and regulations related to marijuana enforcement.
- If states that have decriminalized possession of marijuana continue to criminalize it on second or third offenses.
The number of Virginians arrested for violating the state’s marijuana possession laws rose 76 percent between 2003 and 2014. In 2010, 88.3% of all marijuana offenses were for marijuana possession (18,756 out of 21,231). Minor marijuana possession violators, many of them young, first-time offenders, should not be punished with a lifelong criminal conviction.
In line with changes in other states, the majority of Virginians (78%) support reducing the penalty for possession of small amounts of marijuana to a fine instead of a misdemeanor conviction.
Please use the prewritten letter below to contact the Crime Commission and urge them to support decriminalization in Virginia.