Republican Leader Seeking Marijuana Law Change in Virginia

Virginia Senate leader wants to set rules for arrest

First offenders charged with possession of marijuana will no longer risk jail time and could have a chance to purge their records.

A new change is being brought forward for first-time marijuana offenders. This is under a bill to be proposed by Senate Majority Leader Thomas Norment who is the current Republican Majority Leader of the Senate of Virginia.

However, this proposal would not apply to just anyone. It “will apply to a first time offender”, Norment told supporters at his annual pre-General Assembly breakfast meeting. A first offense for simple possession of marijuana now is a misdemeanor, punished by a fine of up to $500 and jail time of up to 30 days.

Virginia was Made a Promise

Virginia looking to decriminalize weed
Demand for cannabis is high and enforcement of prohibition is stronger than ever, leading to some truly massive busts. via Merry Jane 

On Monday, Norment outlined his long-promised marijuana reform proposal. It would eliminate jail time for first offenders. Although judges often decline to jail first offenders, it offers an additional safety net.

This bill would allow judges to erase records of arrests and convictions for a first offense. But the defendant must meet several conditions, including payment of any fine and attendance at any drug program. He said this would not make recreational marijuana use legal. However, it may lower the number of marijuana offenders.

“That can follow you forever.”

A Virginia Crime Commission study found that nearly half of first offenders arrested for marijuana are African-Americans. Yet, only 20 percent of Virginia residents are of color. The study also shows that “caucasians use marijuana at about the same rate,” Gastañaga said.

The ACLU believes simple possession should not be a criminal offense.

the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is a nonprofit, multi-issue, 500,000+ member public interest organization devoted to protecting the basic civil liberties of all people in the United States.
the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is a nonprofit, multi-issue, 500,000+ member public interest organization devoted to protecting the basic civil liberties of all people in the United States. via ACLU

Norment stated his proposal will face a tough time in the General Assembly. Several members in both the House and Senate have opposed any easing of drug laws, including marijuana.

“Maybe you’ve seen the videos … for advanced Parkinson’s disease, it can really reduce the tremors,” he told his supporters.

But last year, a House Courts of Justice subcommittee killed a proposal for a blanket immunity from prosecution for patients with a prescription for medical marijuana. The measure would have allowed doctors and pharmacists to distribute marijuana when used for treatment.

Virginia law now allows the use of oils derived from marijuana that have a non-psychoactive compound to treat intractable epilepsy. State law also says doctors may prescribe marijuana and THC. THC is a psychoactive compound in the plant, to treat cancer and glaucoma.

40 percent of people identified Health Care as a top issue.

This means debates over using the Affordable Care Act funds to expand Medicaid to cover all Virginians with incomes less than 138 percent of the federal poverty level. Norment is unsure if the General Assembly is ready to expand Medicaid to that extent.

But he said “a small working group of state senators is looking for ways to increase the number of people covered by Medicaid. As well, as a way to reduce the cost of health care generally.”

Currently, Virginia’s Medicaid program covers few adults. Elderly people and those with disabilities can get Medicaid if their incomes are less than 80 percent of the poverty level. A cut off of $9,648 for a single person. Also eligible for Medicaid in Virginia are parents with income less than 30 percent of the poverty level, which is no more than $4,872 for a single parent of a single child.

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