Virginia Governor Makes Marijuana Decriminalization Top Of Legislative Agenda


Governor Ralph Northam says removing arrest and jail penalties for possession meant for personal use is his highest priority for criminal justice legislation in the upcoming session of Virginia’s General Assembly.

The legislature convenes this month for the first time since Democrats took control of both chambers. Ahead of that meeting, Northam released a host of proposals related to law and the courts. On marijuana, Northam proposed replacing arrests with a $50 civil penalty and said his legislation would also clear records for people who had prior convictions for possession. His other plans include funding new public defender positions, raising the threshold for felony convictions and ending suspensions of driver’s licenses for unpaid fines and court costs.

“We are a nation of laws and punishment is appropriate for those who break those laws,” Northam said Friday in Richmond. “But it benefits no one for those punishments to be overly harsh. Justice should be tempered with mercy.”

The announcement came a day after Fairfax Commonwealth’s Attorney Steve Descano announced that he directed his office to end a “wasteful, outmoded policy” of prosecuting adults for the personal use of marijuana.

Marijuana legalization activists were buoyed by the announcements. [Read more at WAMU]