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Marijuana Decriminalization May Soon Be a Reality in Virginia

Virginia is on the verge of decriminalizing marijuana, and bills to make that happen have already passed the House and Senate.

Both the House and Senate have passed bills to decriminalize marijuana, and now the lawmakers who introduced both of those bills have struck a deal to make them identical. That’ll keep the effort out of a conference committee and speed up the process of sending the bill to the governor’s desk. One remaining concern, though, is marijuana odor.

During a Senate committee hearing, Richmond Senator Joe Morrissey asked House Majority Leader Charniele Herring if the compromise bill prevents officers from searching a car if they smell pot. 

“No. No it doesn’t," Herring responded. "And honestly until it’s legalized I don’t think we can constrain law enforcement on their observations until we legalize it. But that’s just my opinion.”

A separate bill to legalize marijuana was set aside, at least for this year. But the bill now under consideration creates a work group to look into how legalization might happen.

Here’s Senator Bill Stanley asking Herring about the work group in a committee hearing:

"With regard to this marijuana decriminalization work group, will there be samples? And if so, will snacks be served,” Stanley asked to laughter.

Herring responded, “Not until it’s legal.”

“Asking for a friend,” Stanley said back.

The bill is slated for a final vote in the House and Senate in the next few days.

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

Michael Pope is an author and journalist who lives in Old Town Alexandria.