Marijuana decriminalization in Va. on track for July

Virginia lawmakers approved most of Gov. Ralph Northam’s amendments to a bill that would decriminalize marijuana possession in the state.

Lawmakers accepted 15 of Northam’s 17 amendments to the legislation Wednesday during a reconvened session.

Reconvened sessions are held on the sixth Wednesday after adjournment of each regular or special session.

The marijuana legislation now heads back to Northam, who has the option to veto it or sign it into law.

Northam will likely sign the measure. He has repeatedly called for marijuana to be decriminalized.

“It is reasonable to assume he’s going to be signing legislation that was one of his top priorities for this session,” said Jenn Michelle Pedini, executive director of Virginia NORML, which advocates for marijuana law reform.

That means the new law is on track to take effect in July.

Maryland already decriminalized marijuana possession, and the District legalized it.

“It’s certainly worth celebrating that we may see up to 15,000 fewer arrests per year for marijuana possession in Virginia,” Pedini said.

Under the new law, possessing up to an ounce of marijuana would be just a civil offense punishable by a $25 fine.

Democratic State Sen. Adam Ebbin, who represents parts of Alexandria, Arlington and Fairfax, has pushed for decriminalization. He celebrated on Twitter Wednesday evening.

One of the amendments that lawmakers didn’t agree with involved a report being compiled by a work group that is studying the effects of fully legalizing marijuana in Virginia.

The deadline for that report is set for the end of November, but Northam wanted the deadline extended by a full year.

Northam’s other amendment that failed would have taken away the ability of someone caught with marijuana to seek a jury trial.

“It’s very unlikely that someone facing a $25 civil penalty is ultimately going to request a jury trial, but that is something that is afforded by the Constitution so that amendment was rejected,” said Pedini.

Decriminalization is not the only marijuana-related issue taking effect in July. Virginia’s medical marijuana program will see sweeping changes as well.

“Participating in the program will become legal under state law,” said Pedini. “Patients will begin having access to products produced in the state by our medical cannabis facilities.”

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