Virginia may be known to many as one of the least likely states to legalize marijuana. However, in 2013 alone Virginia had over 24,000 cannabis-related arrests, which sparks the question of decriminalization as a means to limit rather high incarceration numbers in the southern state.
The bill introduced this week was brought forth by Sen. Adam P. Ebbin and if passed would decriminalize possession of less than an ounce of marijuana, currently punishable by 30 days in jail and a $500 fine, to a maximum of a $100 fine. In addition, the bill would soften laws pertaining to cannabis paraphernalia, distribution, and cultivation with a presumption that individuals who grow less than six plants are doing so for personal use.
In the past, Virginia has attempted decriminalization with several unsuccessful bills introduced in the House of Delegates, however, this is the first time a bill pertaining to marijuana legality has come out of the senate.
Regarding the bill Ebbin stated,
“It would decriminalize simple possession of an ounce or less, but not decriminalize it to the extent done recently in Colorado and Washington state… I had requests to do it for a number of years, and I decided this year to go ahead. There’s about 25 million Americans who smokes marijuana in the past year, and our public policy should start to reflect reality and not deny it… The criminalization of possession of small amounts of marijuana ruins far more lives than it impacts in any kind of positive ways,”
Policy director of Virginia’s NORML, Edward McCann, mentioned,
“This is not just a conversation starter; we need to pass this bill. We’ve been talking to many of the members… I think there is general support for the core of the bill, which is removing criminal penalties for people who possess small amounts – even from Republicans… They are much more organized than they were just a few years ago.”
Outside of NORML, the bill is supported by the NAACP, NCIA, and ACLU, among others.
National marijuana-related arrests continue to decline from their record high in 2007 of nearly 875,000 arrests to last year’s reported 700,000 arrests, but there is much more work to be done, according to NORML. At a time of national racial tension, the fact that a disproportionate number of Virginia marijuana arrests last year were African-Americans under the age of thirty doesn’t help the anti-marijuana parties’ argument.