Virginia Governor Ralph Northam is heading into the third year of his term in office. And during his annual State of the Commonwealth speech on Wednesday, Gov. Northam called on lawmakers to decriminalize simple cannabis possession. While hesitant to embrace the more progressive marijuana policy reforms Democratic lawmakers in Virginia’s Assembly have proposed, like recreational legalization, Northam has remained committed to his campaign pledge to decriminalize marijuana and expunge possession convictions. Still, the governor’s remarks Wednesday mark the first time Northam has directly called on the General Assembly to pass a decriminalization measure.
Gov. Northam to Virginia Lawmakers: Decriminalize Possession Now
Despite recent and significant changes to its medical cannabis program, Virginia has struggled to make any progress reforming its strict, punitive laws against marijuana. In Virginia, simply possessing any amount of cannabis is a Class I misdemeanor carrying a maximum 30 day jail sentence.
Beyond that, any subsequent possession offense ratchets up the penalty to a year behind bars and a $2,500 fine. And that’s all for possession of less than half an ounce of cannabis. Anything above half an ounce counts as sale, manufacture or trafficking—a felony charge carrying a one to 10 year prison sentence.