RICHMOND—Yesterday, the House of Delegates Courts of Justice Committee reported HB 972 — a bill sponsored by House Majority Leader Charniele Herring to decriminalize marijuana in Virginia — out of committee on a 12-8 vote, moving the bill to the House floor for further consideration. If enacted, Virginia would join 26 other states and the District of Columbia in decriminalizing the simple possession of marijuana.
HB 972 removes the criminal penalty for simple marijuana possession and creates a civil fine of $25. The civil penalty can be prepaid as to not be charged court costs. The penalty will not be reflected in a criminal record since the bill seals all previous simple possession of marijuana arrests, criminal charges, and convictions.
“This is an important step in improving the criminal justice system. While marijuana arrests across the nation have decreased, arrests in Virginia have increased,” House Majority Leader Charniele Herring said. “Although HB 972 will not eliminate the racial disparities surrounding marijuana, it will prevent low-level offenders from receiving jail time for simple possession while we move toward legalization in coming years with a framework that addresses both public safety and equity in an emerging market.”
Simple marijuana possession disproportionately affects people of color, as arrests on these charges are three times more likely for racial minorities than their white peers. Decriminalizing marijuana will eliminate social barriers, as individuals with drug charges are often prohibited from obtaining necessary social support.