The Virginia General Assembly began its 2016 legislative session on Wednesday, and already three bills have been introduced to reduce the penalty for possession of small amounts of marijuana to a civil fine. Virginia’s current penalties for marijuana possession are steep: Possessing up to a half an ounce of marijuana is a misdemeanor that carries up to 30 days in jail and a $500 fine for first time offenders. Subsequent offenses face up to a year in jail and a $2,500 fine.
The three decriminalization bills would prevent marijuana consumers from suffering the life-altering consequences that can come with having a criminal record. This less draconian approach to penalizing possession of personal use amounts of marijuana also saves law enforcement time and money, and brings Virginia more in line with Maryland, North Carolina, and Washington, D.C.’s decriminalization policies.