On April 12, 2020, Virginia Governor Ralph Northam signed into law a number of criminal justice reform measures that will take effect on July 1, 2020, including a measure that decriminalizes simple possession of marijuana. But that does not mean that marijuana possession will become legal in Virginia just yet.
Instead, the new law provides that simple possession of marijuana is a civil offense with a penalty of no more than $25. Currently, under Virginia law, Code § 18.2-250.1, simple possession of marijuana is an unclassified misdemeanor with a penalty of up to thirty days in jail and a fine of up to $500 for a first offense. Subsequent convictions are punished as a Class 1 misdemeanor, with a penalty of up to twelve months in jail and/or a fine of up to $2,500. Effective July 1, all simple possession marijuana cases will be treated as civil rather than criminal offenses.
The new legislation provides other significant changes to marijuana possession cases:
- No court costs will be imposed;
- Criminal records cannot include these civil violations; and
- Driver’s licenses will no longer be suspended for non-driving related offenses, including drug offenses.
The Governor has also ordered that a study be conducted on the possibility of legalizing marijuana possession in Virginia, a step that would remove all penalties, including civil penalties, and place Virginia on an equal footing with D.C. and 12 other states who have legalized recreational marijuana use.
In the meantime, however, it remains “unlawful” to possess marijuana, albeit a civil offense rather than criminal offense. But distribution or possession of distribution-quantities of marijuana remains illegal and punishable as a crime in Virginia.
If you have been charged with a drug offense in Fairfax County or elsewhere in Virginia or D.C., call the experienced drug attorneys at Greenspun Shapiro.