July legalization sets timeline to seal certain marijuana-related criminal records

Published: Jun. 29, 2021 at 6:55 PM EDT|Updated: Jun. 29, 2021 at 6:56 PM EDT
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RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - On Thursday, Virginia will legalize simple possession of marijuana, allowing adults 21 and up to possess up to one ounce of pot for personal use. Virginia Governor Ralph Northam believes this legalization will provide an opportunity to further criminal justice reforms around the Commonwealth.

Under the state’s Cannabis in Virginia website, the state says the law will also lay out a timeline for state agencies to seal marijuana-related records, but it could take time.

Starting July 1, 2021, the state says all records of misdemeanor possession with intent to distribute marijuana arrests, charges, and convictions will be automatically sealed from public view in the Virginia State Police’s systems.

This follows the sealing of simple possession of marijuana records, which the state says were completed in 2020.

By July 1, 2025, all records of arrests, charges, and convictions for simple possession of marijuana or misdemeanor possession with intent to distribute will be automatically sealed across all state and private databases. This is will happen once record-keeping systems are updated among several state entities.

“Sealing a record really creates a benefit for the collateral consequences such as housing, pell grants, education, employment,” said Chelsea Higgs Wise, a local activist. “The sealing records does not stop the criminal justice system, the cops, the prosecutors, the judges from seeing your record and it being used against you later.”

During the marijuana bill signing in April, Virginia Governor Ralph Northam said the legalization was about “equity” above all as studies show Black Virginians are four times more likely to face marijuana charges.

“Making sure this is a way to bring racial justice to the criminal justice system,” said Cynthia Nwarache, an advocacy coordinator with OAR of Richmond.

The organization helps inmates behind bars know their rights while navigating the criminal justice system. They also help people re-enter society after serving their time.

Nwarache hopes this legislation will offer second chances.

“Paired with a record and being a person of color, that further causes employers, for housing, for landlords, to further discriminate against someone from renting to them or offering a job position,” she said.

Under the Cannabis in Virginia website, people will also have the ability to petition a court to seal all other marijuana-related misdemeanors and most marijuana-related felonies.

Wise also adds that there’s still more work to be done to pass laws about expungement.

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