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The Virginia Marijuana Decriminalization Act comes into pressure right this moment

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Max Savage Levenson July 1, 2020

Virginia is for lovers … of cannabis. It is not legal to sell it to non-medical patients, but as of July 1st, possession of adults up to an ounce will only be fined $ 25. (AdobeStock)

Starting today, Virginia residents will get a first taste of the much-needed cannabis reform.

Thanks to a law Virginia was passed by law in March and signed by Governor Ralph Northam in May. It is the 27th state to decriminalize marijuana. The new law effectively puts Virginia in the status of a legal medical marijuana state and increases the national total to 35.

Owning up to an ounce of marijuana in Virginia is now considered a civil offense that can only be fined $ 25.

The new law immediately seals records of marijuana ownership by employers and school administrators. In addition, substances are redefined that were previously considered hashish as marijuana.

While the new law is an important step, the decriminalization of freedom and security is nowhere near complete legalization and is only the first step in a long process to make significant changes.

"The Virginians have long spoken out against criminalizing the possession of personal marijuana," said Jenn Michelle Pedini, Virginia NORML's executive director (and NORML's national development director) in a press release earlier this week, "and changes to the passing of this legislation this." public opinion in public order. "

Medical marijuana pharmacies will follow soon

While the decriminalization law, which requires the establishment of a working group to assess the possible effects of legalization on the state, points to further reforms, another major change is imminent: four years after its approval by the legislator, the long-term disabled medical care of the States The marijuana program is finally starting.

While the state's first five manufacturer pharmacies were already approved for opening later this year, lawmakers recently approved 25 more. Legislators have also lifted the ban on products that contain more than 5% THC. Patients can now buy cannabis doses of up to 10 mg THC in virtually any form except flowers.

A patient can receive a recommendation from an approved doctor. In Virginia, patients do not have to demonstrate specific qualifications. The only requirement is that a doctor agrees that medical marijuana is an appropriate treatment.

Reform was urgently needed

Decriminalization was long overdue in Virginia, where marijuana was arrested have increased in the past few years. In 2018, for example, around 29,000 Virginians were arrested on marijuana charges. this number has almost tripled since 1999.

Colored people make up a disproportionate share of these arrests. According to the ACLU 2020 report "A story from two countries: Racially targeted arrests in the marijuana reform era." Black Virginians are arrested for marijuana 3.4 times more often than their white counterparts.

These arrests led to draconian consequences: first-time property owners faced up to 30 days in prison and a fine of up to $ 500, not to mention a permanent spot in their criminal records. Caught again with the pot? You have turned yourself in a year in prison.

"Marijuana arrests have been at their highest for at least two decades, and maybe ever," said Mark Herring (D), Virginia attorney general. said last year, "which means that even more Virginians, especially young and colored people, will be charged with criminal records that can dramatically affect their lives."

An imperfect law, but something to build on

While proponents of the decriminalization law are optimistic that it will result in fewer arrests, other activists are concerned that racially harassed harassment will continue. For example, the Virginia decriminalization law does not prevent police officers from using the smell of marijuana as a justification for stopping and searching a vehicle or person.

"We know that civil penalties do not end the police's racist pretexts," said Ashna Khanna, legislative director of ACLU Virginia. told Virginia Public Radio earlier this week.

"Until it's legalized, I don't think we can limit law enforcement to their observations until we legalize it," added Charniele Herring, Virginia House majority leader (no relationship), in the same interview.

Prospects for full legalization

The Virginia legislature now has to fight for additional reforms and full legalization. However, activists should be aware of two recent developments. The new decriminalization law creates too a working group to assess the possible impact of legalization on adults in Virginia and make recommendations by November 30, 2020. Last week, members of the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus announced their intention to introduce cannabis legalization laws during a special session next August.

"While we welcome Governor Northam, his government, and the legislature for this important first step (decriminalization), it is important that lawmakers work quickly to legalize and regulate responsible adult cannabis use," Pedini said Virginia NORML in its latest press release.

“For too long, cannabis criminalization has disproportionately affected young people, poor people, and black people, and lawmakers must take immediate action to correct these past mistakes and reverse the damage done to the hundreds of thousands of Virginians by the ban do. ”

Steve Hawkins, executive director of the Marijuana Policy Project, admitted that decriminalizing cannabis "will save thousands of Virginians from the trauma of arrest and the stigma of a criminal conviction".

"However," added Hawkins, "Virginia lawmakers should continue to work towards a broader cannabis policy reform. As the Virginia Legislature Black Caucus has recognized, full legalization is required. While decriminalization is long overdue, legalization is needed, to drastically reduce police-civilian interactions and eliminate the excuse for countless police stops. "

Max Savage Levenson's bio picture

Max Savage Levenson

Max Savage Levenson probably has the lowest cannabis tolerance of all authors in the cannabis beat. He also writes about music for Pitchfork, Bandcamp and other people with glasses. He is the co-host of the hash podcast. His dream interview is Tyler the Creator.

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