Virginia just decriminalized marijuana The state is the 27th to decriminalize or legalize marijuana
On Sunday, Gov. Ralph Northam (D) announced he signed a bill that will eliminate jail time for simple marijuana possession, leaving only a civil penalty with a fine in place for the first offense. Northam previously said decriminalization was a priority for him, and the newly elected Democratic-controlled legislature soon followed his lead. This is not full marijuana legalization. Under decriminalization, penalties carrying jail or prison time are removed, but lower-level penalties, like a fine, remain in place and sales remain illegal. Under legalization, all penalties for marijuana possession are removed, and sales are typically allowed.
Some opponents of legalization favor decriminalization as a step toward peeling back America’s harsh drug and criminal justice policies. They see “tough on crime” policies as too punitive and costly, but they don’t want to resort to full legalization, which they fear would make pot too accessible in the US and allow big corporations to sell and market the drug irresponsibly. The concern for legalization advocates is that decriminalization keeps the ban on selling marijuana, which means users wouldn’t have a legal source for the drug, and criminal organizations would therefore still have a source of revenue they can use for violent operations around the world. The fines, while less punitive than arrests or prison time, can also cause problems, since they’re often applied in a racially disparate manner.
Some activists, including the Virginia chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, oppose the decriminalization measure on similar grounds: They fear that the bill doesn’t do enough to dismantle the status quo of prohibition, preferring lawmakers legalize outright instead of taking smaller steps. But state lawmakers and other activists argued that some progress is better than none. So after Democrats this year took control of Virginia’s legislature for the first time in decades, they moved to decriminalize. Eleven states and Washington, DC, have legalized marijuana, although Vermont and DC don’t allow sales. Sixteen other states, now including Virginia, have decriminalized.