Legislation is pending to eliminate criminal penalties for marijuana possession offenses.
Senate bill 1269 provides a civil penalty of no more than $100 for a first-time marijuana possession violation — no arrest, no jail time, and no criminal record.
Under current law, a first offense is punishable by a maximum fine of $500 and a maximum 30-day jail sentence. Subsequent offenses are a Class 1 misdemeanor.
The bill further protects Virginians by ensuring that a driver’s license suspension can apply only to criminal violations or to civil violations by a minor.
The number of Virginians arrested for violating the state’s marijuana possession laws increased 76 percent between the years 2003 and 2014, at a time when arrests for similar violations were falling nationwide, according to an assessment of arrest data provided by the US Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Virginia State Police.
Presently, Virginia police make over 22,000 annual marijuana possession arrests — one of the highest totals of any state in the nation. Minor marijuana possession offenders, many of them young people, should not be saddled with a criminal record and the lifelong penalties and stigma associated with it.
The number of African Americans arrested for possessing marijuana climbed from 4,991 in 2003 to 10,293 in 2014 – an increase of 106 percent, the report determined. In 2013, African Americans accounted for nearly half (47 percent) of possession arrests, but comprised only 20 percent of the state population.
The policy proposed by this bill is line with those of numerous other states, including Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, and Nebraska. Such a change will save taxpayers money and allow police and the courts to reprioritize their resources toward addressing more serious crimes.
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