On Friday, Virginia’s Gov. Ralph Northam announced that on top of his agenda for the 2020 General Assembly session is criminal justice reform and marijuana decriminalization. While listing his legislative priorities, the governor featured a decriminalization measure. Northam intends to make low-level marijuana possession punishable by a fine of $50 without additional jail time; however, his proposal does not specify the exact amount of marijuana that falls in this classification.
His proposal also includes a provision seeking for expungement for people previously convicted of marijuana possession.
In a press release, Northam said that residents of Virginia deserve to have access to a criminal justice system that is fair and equitable. He further said that his proposed legislation and the budget measure would help in fighting mass incarceration, increase support for former convicts and make sure that they are given a second chance after serving their time.
The governor further said that the criminal justice reform agenda is a daring move towards a just and an all-encompassing commonwealth. He also said that he is looking forward to working with the General Assembly to pass the legislation into law. In 2017, Northam made marijuana decriminalization the centerpiece for his gubernatorial campaigns.
It is yet to be specified if the governor is urging the legislature to approve a decriminalization bill that is yet-to-be introduced or if he is supporting one that has already been filed because in November of 2019 after the Democrats regained control of both chambers of the General Assembly, the lawmakers pre-filed a measure seeking to make simple marijuana possession punishable by a fine of $50.
Some legislators in Virginia said that decriminalization and expungement would serve as a gateway to broader marijuana legalization. Last month, Attorney General Mark Herring (D) hosted the marijuana summit whose purpose was to provide information on future marijuana legislation. Herring is vying for the position of governor in 2021, and he plans on supporting total marijuana legalization.
In a press conference, the governor said that although Virginia is not ready for recreational marijuana legalization, he noted that decriminalization is a step in the right direction. He further said that even though his criminal justice plan does not feature broader marijuana legalization, there is a filed legislation seeking to legalize the adult-use cannabis market during the 2020 legislative sessions in Virginia.
The state prosecutors are also considering marijuana reforms, and on Thursday, the Fairfax County Commonwealth’s attorney, Steve Descano, announced that his office would not be pursuing simple cannabis possession cases.
During a phone interview with an online publication, Descano said that it is the duty and responsibility of the prosecutors to ensure that justice is served. He also added that he does not plan on participating in passing the decriminalization bill.
On Thursday, Arlington County Commonwealth attorney Parisa Dehghani-Tafti said that her office would not be pursuing cases based on marijuana possession from that moment onwards.
In his reform agenda, Northam is seeking to cease the policy of suspending a driver’s license once he or she is convicted of drug offenses or failure to pay jail fees. Experts think that these proposed actions in Virginia are a welcome development in the eyes of marijuana industry players like Green Growth Brands Inc. (CSE: GGB) (OTCQB: GGBXF) and IONIC Brands Corp. (CSE: IONC) (OTC: IONKF) who have for long felt it was unjust to punish people for punishing people for using a product that is now seen as beneficial.
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