On Monday, April 13, 2020, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam announced the signing of a bill decriminalizing marijuana in the Commonwealth of Virginia. Virginia now joins 27 states that have taken such action (with 11 states plus D.C. legalizing cannabis, and 16, including Virginia, now decriminalizing).
While the bill (HB 972) to decriminalize marijuana (in conjunction with two similar bills reconfiguring legal definitions of marijuana and restrictions on time served) passed the Virginia House and Senate with bipartisan support in March 2020, Northam faced a deadline last weekend to sign them into law. On Saturday, April 11, Northam signed the bill, and on Sunday, April 12, he made the announcement to the state that beginning July 1, marijuana possession will no longer be a criminal offense.
- The law takes effect on July 1, 2020.
- Fines for possession up to one ounce may not exceed $50. Possession under this amount will now be treated as a civil, not a criminal penalty (For example, legally in a justice procedure similar to a bad traffic ticket)—and jail time may not be incurred under this new law.
- It is not legal to possess marijuana, but it is now a civil offense—not a criminal one (A speeding violation is a civil offense; assault is a criminal offense).
- This law applies to possession of up to one ounce of marijuana.
- It doesn’t apply to possession over one ounce (This is interpreted as “intent to distribute” and the new civil law stipulations do not apply).
- Selling marijuana is neither legal nor decriminalized (possession of over one ounce).