Bills to decriminalize marijuana in Virginia die in subcommittee

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AUGUSTA COUNTY, Va (WHSV) — UPDATE (Jan. 18):

Virginians who support reform of the state's marijuana laws were hoping 2019 would be a productive year in the General Assembly.

But that momentum stalled on Wednesday, when a House of Delegates subcommittee killed most of the significant marijuana legislation introduced in the House this year.

Supporters of marijuana reform have had some success in the General Assembly, including recent legislation that expanded the use of cannabis oil for medical treatments.

They were disappointed by Wednesday's vote.

Katie Clifton is a Roanoke acupuncturist, and Virginia Board Member for NORML, an organization that advocates for the reform of marijuana laws across the country.

"We weren't really surprised by that," Clifton told WDBJ7 in an interview Thursday, "but we are very frustrated that the General Assembly is not listening to what the majority of voters are saying about marijuana legislation."

Clifton said public education and advocacy will continue, with a screening of the documentary 'Weed the People,' later this month at the Grandin Theatre, and more lobbying in Richmond.

"We're going to continue to educate legislators on the efficacy of marijuana as a medicine and how important decriminalization is," Clifton said, "and we are also going to really get out and get out the vote."

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As Virginia's General Assembly meets for this first time this year in a few days, a Senate bill has been proposed aiming to decriminalize marijuana in the commonwealth in 2019.

"It's time for the courts of justice committee in the Senate to advance this legislation. If it doesn't get a floor vote we can only look to the controlling members of those committees who are not supporting what Virginians are demanding," said Jenn Michelle Pedini, the Executive Director for Virginia NORML.

Pedini said criminal charges for simple marijuana possession are unfair and follow you for life.

"A criminal charge for marijuana possession, even a misdemeanor, carries life long implications. It can have an impact on your ability to get a job, parents can lose custody of their children, people can be evicted from their homes," said Pedini.

Augusta County Commonwealth's Attorney, Tim Martin, said these laws are more forgiving than some may realize. According to him, there are programs allowing people to avoid conviction after their first simple possession charge through community service.

"From there, the next time would be your first conviction, and then that would be a max of 30 days. So, the notion that a first time possessor is really in any trouble other than a fine right now anyway is just not true," said Martin.

Martin said the idea that there are huge numbers of people spending time in jail for simple marijuana possession is false.

"That simply isn't true. It just isn't true. I can't remember the last time we, in Augusta County Commonwealth's Attorney's Office, recommended jail or prison time for anyone on a simple possession of marijuana charge," said Martin.

However, Martin and Pedini agree that decriminalization in Virginia is coming, and it's just a matter of when.