Virginia senator warns against false sense of security with new pot laws

With the recent decriminalization of small amounts of marijuana in Virginia, one senator is warning Virginians against a false sense of security now that pot possession is a civil offense instead of a criminal one.

Virginia marked a milestone Wednesday, July 1, as possessing small amounts of marijuana became decriminalized under a law that was passed earlier this year during the legislative session.

Sen. Scott Surovell, D-Fairfax, advises people not to act as though marijuana has been legalized.

“My advice to anybody is don’t change your behavior at all because I don’t think the law really does a lot,” Surovell said. “The bad consequences are all still there.”

Under the new law, having an ounce or less of marijuana will cost someone a $25 civil fine rather than an arrest and a criminal charge, and you can no longer have your driver’s license suspended for a marijuana possession conviction.

Before the law change, pot possession could mean a license suspension, jail time and hundreds of dollars in fines.

But Surovell, who is a practicing attorney, told WTOP that the “practical consequences are pretty much all still the same.”

“It’ll still show up on an employment background check because the records are going to be public at the courthouse, and you can be deported for this if you’re not legally present,” Surovell said.

One of the main pieces of the Virginia law that Surovell points to is the fact that the state does not allow “expungements” when someone either is convicted or stipulates to guilt.

That means if you are convicted of a civil infraction in Virginia, it could still be with you.

“The reality is, it could stick around and follow you forever,” Surovell said.

The only way to get around all that is to fully legalize recreational marijuana, which Surovell predicted would happen in two to five years.

“It’s a very complicated issue to actually accomplish legislatively,” Surovell said.

Maryland had already decriminalized marijuana possession and D.C. legalized it.

Nick Iannelli

Nick Iannelli can be heard covering developing and breaking news stories on WTOP.

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