HARRISONBURG, Va. (WHSV) — A newly proposed bill in the Virginia Senate is calling for the decriminalization of marijuana possession in the Commonwealth.
Currently, if you are caught with marijuana in Virginia, it is a class one misdemeanor with a maximum fine of $500 and a maximum 30-day jail sentence. Senate Bill 111, proposed by Senator Adam Ebbin (D-20th District) would make marijuana possession a civil offense with a $50 fine for the first violation, $100 for the second and $250 for any following offenses.
It's a move that the Virginia branch of National Organization for Reform of Marijuana Laws (Virginia NORML) is in support of, claiming it is costing Virginia.
"We are pleased to work with Senator Ebbin again to advance common sense criminal justice reform in the 2018 legislative session. SB 111 details the method of decriminalization most are familiar with, which is when civil penalties are substituted for criminal prosecution. Think "fines not crimes," said Virginia NORML Executive Director Jenn Michelle Pedini in a statement to WHSV. "Nearly 80% of Virginians support this approach, and the Virginia State Crime Commission explored this policy option in the interim with a legislative study. We look forward to working with our legislature in the coming months to achieve this long overdue reform. Virginia simply cannot afford to continue spending $70 million criminalizing over 22,000 people annually for marijuana possession."
Local Virginia NORML leaders said legal drug options such as tobacco and alcohol kill people, while marijuana does not.
"It's long overdue, it's a failed policy," said Scott McLellen, the Harrisonburg chapter leader of Virginia NORML. "It doesn't prevent use. It doesn't change the cost of marijuana. It doesn't have any effect other than (...) clogging our courts."
According to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency, no deaths have been reported from marijuana. The Centers for Disease Control says that alcohol was responsible for 88,000 deaths each year between 2006 and 2010. Worldwide, according to the CDC, tobacco causes nearly 6 million deaths per year. Cigarette smoking causes more than $480,000 deaths each year, per the CDC.
McLellen said they still want to keep the drug out of children's hands which is something the Great Augusta Prevention Partners through the Office on Youth can agree with, but GAPP still opposes decriminlization
"By decriminalizing it, it will make seem okay for people and specifically youth," said Keri Jones, the coordinator for GAPP.
Jones said there is concern about marijuana addiction which the CDC has strong evidence to support, along with other side effects.
The General Assembly begins meeting on January 10th.