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Possession of small amounts of marijuana may be decriminalized

As of November 2016, 21 states had decriminalized possession of small amounts of marijuana. From the looks of things, Virginia may be soon to follow in their footsteps.

Under current Virginia law, possessing even the smallest amount of marijuana is considered a criminal misdemeanor. Those convicted of these charges can face up to 30 days in jail and a fine of up to $500 for first time offenders. However, this may not be the case for much longer. Lieutenant Governor Ralph Northam recently released a plan to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana in Virginia. He is also open-minded to the idea of using medical marijuana to treat illnesses.

Enforcement of these marijuana possession laws costs the state close to $67 million a year. Northam also referred to a study by the ACLU which revealed that in 2010, African Americans were 2.8 times more likely to be arrested for possessing marijuana in the state.

Northam believes that the money being spent on enforcement may be better spent elsewhere. Other Virginia officials agree. Senate Majority Leader Thomas Norment requested a study of the decriminalization issue last November. Recent legislation changing the penalty for this crime from criminal misdemeanor to a civil fine has been put on hold until the study is completed.

Until the laws are changed, drug possession charges can result in serious consequences. The consequences you face will depend on the type of drug you possessed and the quantity. You may face even stricter penalties if you distributed or planned to distribute the drugs. Those facing such serious charges may benefit from speaking to an attorney to discuss their legal options.

Source: The Roanoke Times, "Virginia Lt. Gov. Northam calls for decriminalizing small amounts of marijuana," Patrick Wilson, Feb. 13, 2017

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