New marijuana law puts light on criminal justice reform in Virginia

Marijuana in Virginia

PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — 10 On Your Side continues weeding out the new marijuana laws.  

Last Thursday, we reported the historic day that Virginia legalized the recreational use of marijuana. While it impacts the daily lives of many Virginians, there’s also a fresh effort behind criminal justice reform.

As we reported July 1, William is like many others who enjoyed smoking legally for the first time last Thursday on private property, not in view of the street. 10 On Your Side is not reporting William’s last name.

“It feels good to not have to hide it in our houses and keep it all a secret,” William said.

The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws is still concerned about several possible criminal issues that need to be resolved. 

“We have to ensure continued expungement in clearing past convictions from people’s records,” said Virginia NORML Executive Director Jenn Michelle Pedini. 

We’ve shown you marijuana that is part of the medical cannabis program. Pedini says parents have contacted NORML after they were denied custody and visitation because of their participation in Virginia’s legal medical marijuana program which has been legal.

“Marijuana is considered a schedule I drug at the federal level; however, most states are in conflict with federal law in regards to its cannabis policies,” Pedini said. 

Del. Steve Heretick (D-Portsmouth) said these matters will require action from lawmakers.

“I think it is going to require a lot of focus on the General Assembly to make other policy considerations,” he said.   

Heretick says the General Assembly must take up expungement of marijuana criminal records, and how legalized marijuana impacts the rights of employers to hire and fire. 

“How does that co-exist with employment programs against marijuana use? How does that co-exist with alcohol for example… would it be illegal to smoke marijuana in public housing?” Heretick said.

Virginia NORML thinks decades of marijuana prohibition is baked into Virginia state code. 

The organization, which has fought since 1970 to legalize marijuana in Virginia, thinks that there is a need for stronger efforts to seal records, which is now mandatory, and that there is a need to expunge the records and to expeditiously seal the newly-required misdemeanor possession with the intent to distribute charges.

“Virginia took a very belt-and-suspenders approach to exploring legalization, not only on how it is regulating cannabis for adults, but un-doing the damage prohibition has caused,” Pedini said.

Longtime pro-marijuana advocate Charles Rasputin wants his record expunged, although he’s still found ways to be a productive member of society.

“I absolutely learned how to make a place for myself even with those felonies hanging over me,” Rasputin said.

“What’s funny is that it came at a time when I was deciding to get away from that business because I didn’t see much of a future in it, and here we are 20 years later, and there is a future in it,” he said.

Coming up Thursday at 4 and 6 p.m., 10 On Your Side will weed out the inconsistencies in the new marijuana laws.

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