VIRGINIA (WAVY) — New marijuana laws go into effect Wednesday in Virginia.

State lawmakers passed a bill on marijuana decriminalization, HB 972, during the last legislative session regarding small amounts of possession.

Marijuana advocates say it’s important to note decriminalization is not the same thing as legalization. The new law just changes the penalty.

Under the current law, anyone caught with a small amount of marijuana could face up to a $500 fine and up to 30 days in jail.

Starting July 1:

  • Anyone caught with an ounce or less will only receive a $25 fine
  • Simple possession will now no longer go on someone’s criminal record.
  • Schools and employers can no longer ask someone applying for employment or admission about possession charges.

10 On Your Side spoke with Jenn Michelle Pedini with Virginia NORML, a nonprofit organization advocating for marijuana reform, to get their take.

“Attitudes really are changing, the overwhelming majority of Virginians do not support maintaining marijuana criminalization,” explained Pedini. “We are seeing that public opinion translate into public policy, not only with the decriminalization but also with the legalization of our medical cannabis program and we can expect to continue this forward momentum.”

Pedini says HB 972 is a victory, of sorts.

“It certainly is a victory after a multi-year sustained effort by Virginia NORML and a broad coalition of reform supporters. However decriminalization is not a public policy solution to marijuana criminalization.”

The General Assembly also passed a number of provisions in the 2020 legislative session to study the legalization and regulation of cannabis. Those results are expected later this year and will likely influence what types of bills regarding legalization are brought before lawmakers in 2021.

Marijuana reform continues to be a hotly debated issue and is expected to be brought up at the special session later this summer.

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