Max Savage LevensonJuly 1, 2020

Virginia is for lovers…of hashish. It’s not authorized to promote it to non-medical sufferers, however as of July 1 grownup possession of as much as one ounce is punishable solely by a $25 civil advantageous. (AdobeStock)

Starting today, Virginia residents will get their first style of much-needed hashish reform.

Thanks to a law handed by the state legislature in March and signed by Gov. Ralph Northam in May, Virginia has change into the 27th state to enact marijuana decriminalization. The new law successfully strikes Virginia into the standing of a authorized medical marijuana state, growing the nationwide complete to 35.

Possession of as much as one ounce of marijuana in Virginia is now thought of a civil offense, punishable solely by a $25 advantageous.

The new law instantly seals misdemeanor marijuana possession information from employers and faculty directors. It moreover redefines substances beforehand thought of cannabis as marijuana.

While the brand new law is a big step, decriminalization comes nowhere near offering the liberty and safety of full legalization, and is simply step one in an extended course of in the direction of substantial change.

“Virginians have long opposed the criminalization of personal marijuana possession,” Jenn Michelle Pedini, the chief director of Virginia NORML (in addition to NORML’s nationwide improvement director) mentioned in a press assertion earlier this week, “and the enactment of this legislation turns that public opinion into public policy.” 

Medical marijuana dispensaries coming quickly

While the decriminalization invoice—which requires the creation of a working group to evaluate the potential impression of legalization on the state—hints at additional reform, one other massive change is imminent: Four years after it was authorised by legislators, the state’s long-hindered medical marijuana program is lastly getting underway.

While the state’s first 5 producer-pharmacies had already been authorised to open later this yr, lawmakers lately signed off on 25 extra. Legislators additionally eliminated the restriction banning merchandise that comprise greater than 5% THC. Patients will now be capable of buy doses of hashish with as much as 10 mg of THC in nearly any type besides flower.

A affected person can obtain a advice from a licensed practitioner. Virginia won’t require sufferers to display any particular qualifying situations—the one requirement is {that a} doctor agrees that medical marijuana is an appropriate therapy.

Reform was sorely wanted

Decriminalization was lengthy overdue in Virginia, the place marijuana arrest charges have soared lately. In 2018, as an illustration, roughly 29,000 Virginians had been arrested on marijuana prices; that quantity almost tripled since 1999. 

People of coloration comprise a disproportionate quantity of these arrests. According to the ACLU’s 2020 report “A Tale of Two Countries: Racially Targeted Arrests in the Era of Marijuana Reform,” black Virginians are 3.four occasions extra more likely to be arrested for marijuana than their white friends. 

Those arrests resulted in draconian penalties: first-time possession offenders confronted as much as 30 days in jail and as much as a $500 advantageous, to say nothing of a everlasting stain on their felony document. Get caught with pot once more? You confronted as much as one yr in jail.

“Marijuana arrests are now at their highest level in at least two decades and maybe ever,” Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring (D) said final yr, “meaning that even more Virginians, especially young people and people of color, are being saddled with criminal records that can drastically affect their lives.”

An imperfect law, however one thing to construct on

While proponents of the decriminalization law are optimistic that it’s going to result in fewer arrests, different activists are cautious that racially-motivated harassment will persist. The Virginia decriminalization law, as an illustration, doesn’t stop cops from utilizing the odor of marijuana as justification to cease and search a car or particular person.

“We know that civil penalties do not end racist pretextual stops by the police,” Ashna Khanna, the Legislative Director of ACLU Virginia, told Virginia Public Radio earlier this week. 

“Until it’s legalized, I don’t think we can constrain law enforcement on their observations until we legalize it,” added Virginia House Majority Leader Charniele Herring (no relation) in the identical interview.

Prospects for full legalization

The onus is now on Virginia lawmakers to battle for extra reform and full legalization. Activists ought to take coronary heart, nevertheless, in two current developments. The new decriminalization law also creates a working group to evaluate the potential impression of adult-use legalization in Virginia and make suggestions by November 30, 2020. Last week, members of the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus announced their intention to introduce laws to legalize hashish throughout a particular session set for this coming August.

“While we applaud Governor Northam, his administration, and the legislature for taking this important first step [of decriminalization], it’s critical the legislature work swiftly to legalize and regulate the responsible use of cannabis by adults,” Pedini, of Virginia NORML, mentioned in her current press launch. 

“For too long, young people, poor people, and people of color have disproportionately been impacted by cannabis criminalization, and lawmakers must take immediate steps to right these past wrongs and to undo the damage that prohibition has waged upon hundreds of thousands of Virginians.”

Steve Hawkins, government director of the Marijuana Policy Project, acknowledged that decriminalizing hashish “will save thousands of Virginians from the trauma of arrest and the stigma of a criminal conviction.”

“However,” Hawkins added, “Virginia lawmakers should continue to work towards broader cannabis policy reform. As the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus has recognized, full legalization is needed. While decriminalization is long overdue, legalization is necessary to dramatically reduce police-civilian interactions and remove the pretext for countless police stops.”

Max Savage Levenson's Bio Image

Max Savage Levenson

Max Savage Levenson possible has the bottom hashish tolerance of any author on the hashish beat. He additionally writes about music for Pitchfork, Bandcamp and different bespectacled people. He co-hosts The Hash podcast. His dream interview is Tyler the Creator.

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