General Assembly closes the door to marijuana legalization until 2021

General Assembly closes the door to marijuana legalization until 2021
The General Assembly shut down proposals to legalize marijuana for the year, but lawmakers said this week they would study the issue and potentially move forward when they reconvene in 2021. (Source: CNN/file)

The General Assembly shut down proposals to legalize marijuana for the year, but lawmakers said this week they would study the issue and potentially move forward when they reconvene in 2021.

Both the House and the Senate are instead advancing decriminalization bills that would punish possession of a half-ounce or less of the plant — presently a Class 1 misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail — with a civil fine. The House is proposing a $25 penalty and the Senate is proposing $50.

“I hope we’re making enough of a stride in the right direction,” said Del. Michael Mullin, D-Newport News. “I personally hope that we can achieve in the next year legalization of marijuana in the commonwealth.”

The House Courts of Justice Committee voted on Wednesday night to refer three legalization bills, filed by Democratic Dels. Jennifer Carrol Foy, Lee Carter and Steve Heretick, for study.

They then voted 12-8 along party lines, with Democrats supporting and Republicans opposing, to send decriminalization legislation filed by Del. Charniele Herring, D-Alexandria, to the floor of the House.

The vote disappointed some advocates, who have persistently argued that merely reducing the penalty for possession will not alleviate the problem Democrats have said they hope to address — disproportionate enforcement experienced by minority neighborhoods.

Herring acknowledged those criticisms but called the legislation an important first step.

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