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Virginia Takes Historic Step to Decriminalize Marijuana

On Sunday, March 8, 2020 at the final close of Virginia’s 2020 legislative session, a slate of new laws were passed, including a bill to decriminalize marijuana and expunge criminal records.

The plan that earned bipartisan support includes reducing penalties for marijuana to a $25 civil penalty for a first offense; establishing a process to expunge charges that result in a dismissal, and requesting a study on marijuana legalization.

The reform measures were the result of the first session with a Democratic majority government in Virginia. It was precipitated by advocacy for marijuana reform led by Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring in December.

Text of Virginia House Bill 972

HB 972 Marijuana; possession and consumption, penalty.

Possession and consumption of marijuana; penalty. Decriminalizes simple marijuana possession and provides a civil penalty of no more than $25. Current law imposes a maximum fine of $500 and a maximum 30-day jail sentence for a first offense, and subsequent offenses are a Class 1 misdemeanor. The bill provides that any violation of simple possession of marijuana may be charged by a summons in form the same as the uniform summons for motor vehicle law violations and that no court costs shall be assessed for such violations. The bill also provides that a person’s criminal history record information shall not include records of any charges or judgments for such violations and records of such charges or judgements shall not be reported to the Central Criminal Records Exchange. Additionally, the bill provides that the suspended sentence/substance abuse screening provisions and driver’s license suspension provisions apply only to criminal violations or to civil violations by a juvenile. The bill defines “marijuana” to include hashish oil and creates a rebuttable presumption that a person who possesses no more than one-half ounce of marijuana possesses it for personal use. The bill also (i) makes records relating to the arrest, criminal charge, or conviction of possession of marijuana not open to public inspection and disclosure, except in certain circumstances; (ii) prohibits employers and educational institutions from requiring an applicant for employment or admission to disclose information related to such arrest, criminal charge, or conviction; and (iii) prohibits agencies, officials, and employees of the state and local governments from requiring an applicant for a license, permit, registration, or governmental service to disclose information concerning such arrest, criminal charge, or conviction. Finally, the bill requires the Secretaries of Agriculture and Forestry, Finance, Health and Human Resources, and Public Safety and Homeland Security to convene a work group to study the impact on the Commonwealth of legalizing the sale and personal use of marijuana and report the recommendations of the work group to the General Assembly and the Governor by November 1, 2021. This bill incorporates HB 265, HB 301, and HB 481.

Virginia’s Legislative Information System, 2020 Session

Learn more about marijuana laws in Virginia.

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