Marijuana Decriminalization Likely to Take Step Forward Monday

Feb 10, 2020

Del. Charniele Herring speaks on the floor of the House of Delegates Friday.
Credit Michael Pope

Members of the House of Delegates are poised to cast a vote Monday on decriminalizing marijuana.

Efforts to decriminalize marijuana — or even legalize it — have been moving forward in many states across the country, although the effort wasn’t gaining much traction here in Virginia until Democrats took over the General Assembly last month.

Now members of the House of Delegates are poised to pass a decriminalization bill introduced by Majority Leader Charniele Herring.  “There’s still a civil penalty if it’s more than half an ounce," Herring noted.  "I don’t think it encourages drug use. But the reality is that people are using marijuana, and the arrests are disproportionate. And this is an effort to address that.”

During a debate on the House floor Republican Delegate Nick Rush said he was concerned decriminalization would end up creating a larger market of people who want to use marijuana, who would be forced to purchase it from people who were acting illegally. 

“So what you’re doing is setting people up for failure. You’re creating a larger market, and then punishing people who supply that. The better route would be either legalization or what we’re doing now,” Rush said afterward.

So does he support legalization?  “I haven’t come to that conclusion yet," Rush said.  "I am obviously still studying that issue. It hasn’t been in a committee that I’ve been in front of, but I would rather legalize than what we’re doing now.”

The effort for full legalization has already been set aside for this year, although it might come back again next year. And decriminalization might end up being a step toward full legalization, eventually.

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