As of today, Virginia has become the 27th U.S. state to decriminalize cannabis.
As of today, the first of July, Virginia has officially decriminalized the possession of cannabis, reducing the penalty for possessing an ounce or less of cannabis to a $25 fine. The decriminalization follows a bill known as HB 972, which was signed by the Governor of the state, Ralph Northam. Additionally, HB 972 includes provisions to investigate the potential of adult-use legalization in the state, with recommendations to be made on November 30th this year.
"Decriminalizing cannabis will save thousands of Virginians from the trauma of arrest and the stigma of a criminal conviction," exclaimed Steve Hawkins, executive director of the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP). "However, Virginia lawmakers should continue to work towards broader cannabis policy reform. As the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus has recognized, full legalization is needed. While decriminalization is long overdue, legalization is necessary to dramatically reduce police-civilian interactions and remove the pretext for countless police stops."
Also occurring in November, Mississippi voters will decide whether medicinal cannabis should be made legal in the state.
"Twenty-seven states have now decriminalized cannabis, and Virginia's decriminalization law is the strongest among them. Once the law is in effect, it will prevent Virginians from being criminalized and having their lives derailed for simple cannabis possession," Olivia Naugle, a legislative analyst for MPP, concluded.
Virginia's shift in how the state approaches and penalizes cannabis possession reflects a broader trend across the U.S., which is one of increasing acceptance toward cannabis legalization. In fact, recent polling has found that 7/10 Americans find cannabis legalization "morally acceptable." This is up from 66% from polls taken less than a year ago, which suggests the momentum surrounding cannabis is growing rapidly.
Looking toward the end of this year, three U.S. states are looking promising with regard to cannabis legalization. Those are Mississipi, New Jersey, and South Dakota, each of which has marijuana initiatives on their upcoming November ballot.
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