Marijuana decriminalization bills fail in Virginia

Emily Gray Brosious

Virginia marijuana decriminalization bill fails
(Photo credit: Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Marijuana decriminalization bills fail in Virginia House subcommittee

Two bills designed to relax criminal penalties for marijuana possession in Virginia failed to pass a House Delegates subcommittee Monday, according to a Richmond Times Dispatch report.

Current penalties for marijuana possession in Virginia are among the harshest in the country. Getting caught with even a small amount of marijuana can lead to a $500 fine and up to 30 days in jail.

Democratic state lawmakers Mark H. Levine and Stephen E. Heretick filed separate bills aimed at reducing marijuana possession penalties from a criminal offense to a civil violation.

“When you have half of the population violating a law, it’s a law that’s not working,” Levine told the Richmond Times Dispatch.

Both bills failed to advance on Monday.

Although marijuana arrest rates have been dropping across much of the country, pot arrests in Virginia have actually been sharply rising.

According to research by Drug Policy Alliance, marijuana arrests nationwide dropped 6.5 percent between 2003 and 2014. During that same time, marijuana possession arrests in Virginia increased 76 percent. The marijuana arrest rate for black individuals in Virginia increased 106 percent.

Virginia’s marijuana situation contrasts drastically with that in Washington D.C., which has seen marijuana arrests drop by more than 90 percent since legalizing recreational cannabis in 2014.

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View gallery: 19 states where marijuana has been decriminalized

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State marijuana possession penalties may vary in municipalities that pass their own marijuana laws.

Gallery state decriminalization information via NORML

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