A recently proposed bill that would peel back penalties for individuals convicted of marijuana possession is working its way through the Virginia General Assembly, having already been passed by a 38-2 vote in the State Senate.
SB 1091, sponsored by Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria) and Sen. Bill Stanley (R-Franklin County), would change the law so that people convicted of simple marijuana possession for the first time would no longer be subject to an automatic six-month suspension of their driver’s license. A similar proposal has already cleared a subcommittee in the lower chamber.
However, juveniles who are convicted of marijuana possession would still have their licenses automatically suspended. Additionally, the bill would continue to allow judges to suspend the driving privileges of adults based on their own discretion.
Current marijuana possession penalties are severe
The existing laws for marijuana possession have been the subject of debate in Virginia for quite some time. A first offense of possession of less than a half-ounce is classified as a misdemeanor punishable by a $500 fine and up to 30 days in jail, along with a six-month suspension of the offender’s driver’s license. According to Sen. Ebbin, approximately 39,000 people across the commonwealth lose their licenses each year because of drug offenses, but most states—including those immediately bordering Virginia—do not automatically suspend licenses in these cases.
Sen. Stanley supported this information with anecdotal evidence gained during his career as an attorney, saying that he has seen many young people who have been unfairly harmed by Virginia’s strict policies on drugs and license suspensions, policies that stem from the “war on drugs” launched in the 1980s. Stanley says that changing the laws with this bill would give people the opportunity to gain a second chance for what often amounts to being just a “dumb mistake.”
In many cases, possession infractions do not even involve being in a car or driving, which makes the punishment feel unfitting to the crime. The passage of the bill is contingent on written assurance from the U.S. Department of Transportation that the state would not lose federal funding for easing its license suspension policy in these types of cases.
If passed, the bill would be the latest in a series of measures enacted to loosen the laws on marijuana possession in Virginia. The State Senate also recently passed a bill that would allow people with appropriate documentation from a physician to carry THC oil or cannabidiol oil—two products extracted from cannabis plants. Without the documentation, individuals would be changed with marijuana possession. Current laws only allow people with epilepsy to possess these oils.
For more information on the effects this new legislation could have on possession cases in the future and to learn more about your constitutional rights, speak with an experienced Fairfax County drug crime defense lawyer at The NoVa Law Firm.