Marijuana is now decriminalized in Virginia. Here’s what that means.

Marijuana is now decriminalized in Virginia. Here’s what that means.
The laws governing Virginia’s soon-to-launch medical marijuana program are once again getting a little looser. (Source: Pixabay)

Possessing small amounts of marijuana is still illegal in Virginia, but as of Wednesday, the maximum penalty for people caught with an ounce or less the drug has been reduced to a $25 civil fine.

It’s a significant shift in a state where police reported a record 29,000 arrests for marijuana possession in 2018 and a study the prior year found 127 people were being held in jail solely on a marijuana charge — enforcement that disproportionately targeted Black Virginians.

But with a loosely planned public celebration scheduled to take place in Richmond today — “Richmond hasn’t burned this hard since 1865!,” the event’s anonymous organizers wrote — lawmakers and advocates warned that long-lasting personal and professional repercussions could still follow a charge or conviction under the new law.

“I think it’s important to remember that just because it’s now a civil infraction doesn’t mean you’re immune from bad things happening if you get charged or convicted,” said Sen. Scott Surovell, D-Fairfax. “I’m worried the bill will give a lot of people a false sense of security.”

The Virginia Mercury is a new, nonpartisan, nonprofit news organization covering Virginia government and policy.