Virginia Senate leader shifts position, supports marijuana decriminalization

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NORFOLK, Va. (AP) – In a switch, the majority leader of the Virginia state Senate says he supports studying the decriminalization of marijuana.

Tommy Norment, one of the most powerful political leaders in the Commonwealth, announced his position Tuesday while speaking before a Norfolk City Council dinner at the Slover Library.

“It is crazy, we lock up people in the state for modest amounts of marijuana,” he told 8News sister station WAVY. “I think the issue can adequately be addressed with civil penalties rather than criminal ones.”

Norment said the issue should be studied by the Virginia State Crime Commission, which makes recommendations to the legislature. He emphasized that he is for decriminalization and not legalization. Under decriminalization, possession of marijuana would remain illegal but would be treated as something like a traffic offense.

The ACLU of Virginia is one of the groups that has pushed for civil penalties like fines instead of criminal ones for those caught with small amounts of marijuana.

“In Virginia, statewide black folks are three times more likely to be arrested than white folks and in places like Arlington it’s eight times more likely,” Claire Guthrie-Gastanaga with the ACLU of Virginia said. “It’s an exciting development that someone of his stature would begin to have a conversation.”

A study by the Crime Commission could lead to legislation in 2018.

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