RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Under current Virginia law, people caught in possession of a small amount of marijuana could have their license suspended, be sent to jail for up to 30 days or even a year if they’re a repeat offender.
“People who simply are arrested for possession without any evidence of violent behavior,” said Pamela Novy with Virginia Norml, a non-profit aimed at reforming marijuana laws across the country.
The group supports a bill (SB104) filed by Senator Adam Ebbin to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana, making violators pay a $100 civil penalty. Novy says the current system is costing taxpayers millions and clogging up courts.
“If they have a substance abuse problem, rather than treating the problem we are derailing their lives and making it harder for them,” said Novy.
Novy says she doesn’t believe decriminalization will increase use.
“The fact of the matter is just about anybody can acquire marijuana in Virginia,” said Novy.
But Dana Schrad with the Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police counters that, “one of the things about decreasing penalties, it sends a message, it starts to tell the public and young people we don’t consider this a serious problem.”
Schrad says while they don’t support legalization of marijuana, penalties are another story.
“Should we decriminalize to the point that a first offense is not a jailable offense? I think that’s a discussion that’s worth having,” Schrad explained.
But Schrad warns with that there could be some serious consequences.
“We also don’t know whether or not that will increase a drug culture that we know has some real negative ramifications for the workplace and for schools and just for overall health,” said Schrad.