Lower penalties for marijuana possession are on the horizon in Virginia.
A bill passed on Monday by the House of Delegates would impose a civil fine of $25 for the possession of less than a half-ounce marijuana, dropping the penalty from the current $500 fine and 30-day jail stay. The civil penalty would also stay off of a person’s record, and former convictions would be sealed. The Senate approved a similar measure Tuesday night.
The decriminalization bills largely sailed through the legislative process in Richmond, aided by the Democratic majorities in both the House and Senate. Before they even took office earlier this year, Democratic officials from Gov. Ralph Northam and Attorney General Mark Herring to incoming lawmakers pledged to reform the commonwealth’s restrictive marijuana laws, which they said disproportionately impacted people of color.
“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,” tweeted Majority Leader Charniele Herring (D-Alexandria), the author of the bill. (She is unrelated to the attorney general.)
A study by the Virginia Crime Commission in 2017 found that from 2007 to 2016, African Americans comprised almost half of all arrests for first-time marijuana possession, while making up only 20% of the state’s population. [Read more at WAMU]