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Virginia Senator Steps Up for Decriminalization, Again

January 5, 2016

A Virginia state senator is continuing his drumbeat for decriminalizing cannabis in the Commonwealth, introducing a bill that would reduce possession penalties to civil fines.

Sen. Adam Ebbin, D-Alexandria, has been one of the most progressive politicians in a state where opinions on cannabis vary wildly. Attitudes are more relaxed in the northern part of the state, near Washington, D.C., where recreational use is permitted. But an entirely different culture permeates the southern part of the state, out of which come harsh criticisms of cannabis, even for medicinal use.

Ebbin has tried to ease that stigma throughout his time in office. His new piece of legislation, Senate Bill 104, would break ground by reducing current criminal charges for cannabis possession to civil fines. As the the senator put it in a statement to Leafly:

"The prohibition on marijuana in Virginia and our country has failed. Virginia spends an estimated $67 million annually penalizing people who've made a personal choice to use marijuana, and those funds could be better spent focusing on serious criminal activity."

During last year’s legislative session, Ebbin introduced Senate Bill 686, which would have reduced penalties down to a flat $100 civil fine. According to an aide, the biggest difference with the new bill is its increasing fines for subsequent offenses — a change designed to make it more palatable to fellow lawmakers.

Under SB 104, a second violation would result in a $250 fine, and a third fine would be $500. Money from the program would go to the Literary Fund to help pay for school construction.

Gov. Terry McAuliffe last year signed House Bill 1445, which allowed patients who suffer from epilepsy to possess cannabis oil with at least 15 percent CBD and less than 5 percent THC. While it shielded families who use concentrates derived from strains like Charlotte's Web, the law doesn't protect the majority of Virginians, even those who use cannabis to treat other ailments.

Introduced in the last weeks of 2015, Ebbin's bill won't be formally considered until the 2016 legislative session. It's expected the biggest challenge will be clearing the Committee for Courts of Justice on its way to a full Senate vote.

Virginia Considers Decriminalization and Legalization