Marijuana decriminalization bills pass both chambers

Marijuana decriminalization bills pass

RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - It appears Virginia might be softening its view on marijuana with both the House and Senate passing similar bills this week - decriminalizing simple possession.

Both bills aim to reduce fines; the House Bill would result in a fine of about $25 and/or a summons for simple possession. Current laws set fines up to $500, with possible jail time, an offense classified as a misdemeanor.

The Senate’s version imposes a fine up to $50 or community service.

The bills got bipartisan support from both chambers, but there are still some who have doubts.

“The governor’s bill still sees young people as delinquents and still attaches harsher penalties for young folks," said Rebecca Keel with nonprofit group, Marijuana Justice.

Marijuana Justice pushed education on the consequences of decriminalization, especially in communities of color. They say that the House Bill would classify acts committed by a juvenile as a ‘delinquency,’ which could result in charges that stick and end up on their record, adding that it would disproportionately affect minority communities.

“Giving the police more of a tool to go into communities of color and specifically target young people is going to increase the racial disparity and increase the amount of people we have criminalized for marijuana,” Keel said.

But despite the mostly bipartisan support, some lawmakers do also have doubts:

“We see that other states have done varying degrees of changes in their marijuana policy, and I think in those states, we’ve seen varying degrees of success and unintended consequences and problems that have arisen," said Republican House Minority Leader Todd Gilbert.

One of the many supporters, Attorney General Mark Herring - who has been at the forefront of marijuana reform in the Commonwealth - said in part in a statement that passing the bills is “an important first step”, but the “the work is not done”.

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