RICHMOND, Va. – Democratic Governor of Virginia Ralph Northam last week signed policy reforms to decriminalize cannabis in the state. The revised legislation, House Bill 972, was officially signed into law alongside the state’s biennial budget.
HB 972 was previously approved and signed in mid-April, however, a series of amendments caused the legislation to be sent back for reconsideration. Virginia joins twenty-seven U.S. states that have decriminalized cannabis (including eleven states that have legalized cannabis).
“Virginians have long opposed the criminalization of personal marijuana possession, and Gov. Northam’s signature turns that public opinion into public policy,” NORML Development Director Jenn Michelle Pedini said in April on the NORML blog. Pedini also serves as the executive director for the state affiliate, Virginia NORML.
The new policy reduces the legal penalty for first-time cannabis offenses to “a civil penalty of no more than $25 for possession of up to an ounce of marijuana. A person hit with the penalty would not be arrested and it would not create a criminal record. The violations will be in the form of a summons, much like motor vehicle law violations, with no court costs,” according to political news platform TheHill.com.
“Today’s victory is a result of years of dedicated effort by Virginia NORML and marijuana law reform supporters across the Commonwealth,” Pedini said on Thursday. “We’re thrilled to see that public opinion is one step closer to becoming public policy.”
Gov. Northam had pushed for broader policy changes on cannabis but approved HB 972, as well as additional legislation affecting the state’s medical cannabis policies.
Senate Bill 1015 states, “no person may be arrested, prosecuted, or denied any right or privilege for participating in the state’s medical cannabis program.” Senate Bill 976 adds resources for expanding and improving Virginia’s medical marijuana program, including legislative approval of technical amendments.
The new cannabis policies come into effect on July 1.
Media commenters said Virginia’s policy reform is especially significant since no other U.S. southern states have legalized or decriminalized cannabis.