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Lawmakers Decriminalize, Don't Legalize, Marijuana in Virginia

Virginia lawmakers have voted to decriminalize the use of marijuana. If the Governor signs the bill then beginning in July it will no longer be a crime to have up to an ounce of weed. 

Decriminalization is not the same thing as fully legalizing recreational marijuana use. It would still be a felony to have more than an ounce in Virginia, but if someone is caught with less then it would be a $25 civil penalty -- no crime.

Jenn Michelle Pedini is with Virginia NORML, an organization that advocates for marijuana reform. They say this is a big victory and will save the state a lot of money. 

“Virginia is spending over $100 million taxpayer dollars arresting and prosecuting close to 30,000 people every year for marijuana possession,” Pedini said. “This is just not a policy that Virginians support continuing.” 

The legislation, that’s now on its way to the Governor’s desk, broadens the definition of marijuana to also include extraction products - previously defined separately as hash. If a juvenile is found with marijuana it will be considered juvenile delinquency. 

Marijuana is now fully legal in more than 10 states. Virginia will join about ten other states that have decriminalized, but not legalized marijuan use. Lawmakers have commissioned a study on what full legalization could look like here, to be completed before next year’s legislative session. 

Pedini said NORML will continue to advocate for full legalization. 

“That is how we best provide for public and consumer safety, when we’re able to take marijuana off the street corner and put it behind an age verified counter,” they said. 


The legislature also passsed a couple bills making it easier for people to access medical marijuana, including a measure that will allow for more dispensaries to open around the state. 


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


Mallory Noe-Payne is a Radio IQ reporter based in Richmond.
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