On July 1, 2020, Virginia enacted new marijuana laws that effectively decriminalized its possession in small amounts. State officials passed two bills in March 2020 that revised former, stricter guidelines. These bills make Virginia the 26th state to overhaul possession penalties for low-level offenders.
Possession is now a civil offense
Virginia’s former laws treated possession of marijuana as a criminal offense. Offenders received misdemeanor charges for possession, and faced up to 30 days in prison, as well as a fine of up to $500. The state’s new laws, though, consider the possession of less than one ounce of marijuana a civil offense. People found with low amounts of the substance on their person, then, will face a fine of no more than $25. Offenders will also no longer face the possibility of jail time.
Possession will stay off most records
The state’s laws also affect the recording of simple possession charges. These will no longer appear on the accused’s criminal record. And employers can no longer inquire whether job applicants have ever received them. Yet, offenders whose charges stem from a traffic stop in a commercial vehicle could still face consequences. The new law still allows officers to report this type of infraction to the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles. And the incident will then remain on the motorist’s driving record.
While Virginia’s new laws decriminalize low-level possession of marijuana, they do not legalize it outright. People charged with selling, distributing and gifting marijuana will still receive serious penalties. So will people charged with possession with intent. Yet, the revised possession statutes put offenders at lesser risk for legal consequences than before.