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Virginia Lawmaker Wants to Decriminalize First Marijuana Offense

Mallory Noe-Payne


Over the past decade Virginia has arrested more than 130,000 people for possession of marijuana. Those arrests are almost entirely men, and more than half are college-aged. Even though Virginia’s population is only 20-percent black, almost half of all marijuana arrests are of African Americans.


Those were the findings of a new report released by Virginia’s State Crime Commission Monday. Now one lawmaker plans on using that data to fight for decriminalization.  




Lawmakers in Richmond Monday heard the results of a study on decriminalizing marijuana Monday. They also heard from about 30 members of the public.  


Most in the crowd were there to tell lawmakers they supported decriminalizing possession of small amounts of marijuana. A handful spoke against the idea. 


The meeting came about because Republican State Senator Tommy Norment requested a study on the issue. Now Norment says he’s going to propose a bill that would no longer make possession a criminal offense. 


“You’re gonna get one bite at the apple, or one toke if you will, but you’re not going to get a second or a third chance under the legislation I’m talking about,” said Norment. 


More Information: See the Full Study Results Here


A Republican who represents parts of Eastern Virginia, Norment says marijuana would remain a prohibited substance under the bill he’s writing, but the first time someone’s caught with pot, the punishment would be more like getting a traffic ticket.


“And actually something I have been toying with is increasing the fine above where it is currently,” Norment said. “And taking that money and applying it towards opioid education.”


He doesn’t want someone to have to deal with a criminal record for a one-time offense. 


“It is a stigma and it follows some of these young people much further than I think many of my contemporaries would realize,” he added.


Norment recognizes his proposal will face an uphill battle in Virginia’s Republican-controlled General Assembly. But even the Republican candidate for Governor, Ed Gillespie, has said he supports decriminalizing the first two times someone’s caught with marijuana. 


And the Crime Commission could lend weight to his measure. They’ll get the chance vote on recommendations for the full General Assembly after reviewing the results of the study, as well as more than 5,000 comments submitted online.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association

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