ROANOKE, Va. (WFXR) — Amended legislation decriminalizing the possession of marijuana in the Commonwealth of Virginia took effect July 1.
The amendment to Senate Bill Two changes the personal possession of marijuana penalty. Now, those possessing less than one ounce of marijuana will face a $25 fine.
Also, the bill decriminalizes the personal possession of marijuana so that people will not face arrest, jail time, or the offense going on their criminal record.
Although this bill changes the penalties for personal possession of marijuana, it is still illegal to possess, buy, and sell marijuana in Virginia as well as in the United States. No legalization legislation has been passed.
It is unclear in the bill what the actions are moving forward for those already charged, jailed, or who have faced fines for personal possession of marijuana.
“If a person was convicted when it was a crime and then it isn’t a crime unless the legislation specifically provides that directive,” explained Jenn Michelle Pedini, Executive Director of Virginia NORML.
This effort has been in the works since 2014. Now that it is in effect, Roanoke lawyer, Eric Spencer, says he is looking at simple marijuana possession cases differently for his clients.
“We talked about the possibility of continuing the case beyond July 1 so that we could hopefully argue to the court, treat us under the new law,” Spencer stated.
Prior to these changes, Spencer explains that Virginians used to face much harsher penalties for personal possession, including misdemeanor charges and community service hours.
While possession is still not legal, people seemed to have some strong opinions as to whether this was the right decision.
“I think it should be a big fine,” said Roanoke resident, James Nichols. “I think they should go to jail because it’s just like, I mean, you get in a wreck, kill people, all kinds of crazy stuff.”
Downtown Roanoke restaurant owner, Alton Williams, points out that the decriminalization of marijuana possession and potential legalization could help others economically, especially minority populations.
“It could help minimize minorities and other people getting caught up in the system where you’re paying the lawyer a big fee,” Williams advocated.
“Virginia was arresting nearly 30,000 people per year for marijuana offenses, and spending more than 100,000,000 tax payer dollars doing so,” Pedini added.
Advocates for marijuana say the next step is legalizing marijuana for adult use.
Spencer notes that marijuana-related legislation is still being considered by Virginia lawmakers, with the legalization of marijuana potentially being passed in November 2020.