The new law takes effect July 1 and reduces penalties for offenses that involve personal possession of up to one ounce of marijuana to a civil violation.
It marks one of many progressive initiatives the state government has been able to accomplish since Democrats took over the statehouse and the governor’s office in 2019.
On Thursday, Northam signed Senate Bill 2 and House Bill 972, which create a civil penalty of no more than $25 for possession of up to an ounce of marijuana. A person hit with the penalty would not be arrested and it would not create a criminal record. The violations will be in the form of a summons, much like a motor vehicle law violations, with no court costs.
As of now, a first-offense marijuana violation in the state is classified as a criminal misdemeanor punishable by up to $500 in fines, 30 days in jail and a criminal record.
The bills were passed by the legislature at the end of their session in March.
Under the new law, previous marijuana violations will be sealed from criminal records except for “certain circumstances,” meaning people with marijuana violations won’t have to disclose them when applying to schools or jobs.
“The move to decriminalize cannabis possession in Virginia is long overdue,” Steve Hawkins, the executive director of the Marijuana Policy Project, said in a press release Thursday.
“We applaud the legislature and the governor for implementing a policy that will allow law enforcement to focus resources on more serious crimes and prevent Virginians from having their lives derailed for possessing cannabis, a substance that is safer than alcohol,” he added.