Two marijuana reform bills were recently signed by Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe (D), ending the state’s automatic six-month driver’s license suspension for first time possession offenders and allowing the production of CBD oil. This may look like a couple drops in a raging storm of national decriminalization, but NORML Executive Director, Erik Altieri, said it’s a huge accomplishment.
Altieri stated, “The two measures signed into law in Virginia this week may seem like baby steps, but they are the culmination of years of dedicated advocacy and legislative outreach. While neither of these bills will end the arrest of around 18,000 Virginians a year for marijuana possession or create an ideal, accessible medical marijuana program, they represent important progress in terms of growing legislative support for marijuana law reforms.”
When Senate Bill 1091 (which ends Virginia’s automatic ID suspension penalty) goes into effect at the beginning of July, it will be left at the court’s discretion whether or not to impose this condition as a term of probation, and convicts will still be subject to other conditions under Virginia law, including substance abuse screening, drug testing and community service. Minors are still subject to automatic license suspension under the new law.
For many years Virginia has all but topped the list of places you didn’t want to be caught with marijuana. In recent years Virginia has seen quite the increase in enforcement. According to data collected by the Drug Policy Alliance, marijuana possession arrests increased from approximately 13,000 in 2003 to almost 23,000 in 2014, an increase that was especially pronounced in majority Black neighborhoods.
Now that McAuliffe’s put pen to paper, the state should begin to see continued progress in this area, which has already seen some improvement since 2014. This past December, Newport News reported that the number of people arrested or charged with marijuana offenses had fallen by 14% statewide over a two-year stretch. This is step in the right direction, but putting real decriminalization laws on the books is the real answer to ending the waste and social destruction of cannabis prohibition. Keeping strict laws on the books but applying lenient, quasi-enforcement standards creates the potential for serious trouble.
Under “selective enforcement,” those who are most affected and targeted by law enforcement now; communities of colors would continue to carry that burden. In the three years from 2011 to 2013, marijuana possession arrests increased by 1,987 in Virginia; black people accounted for 82% of that increase. The Marijuana Policy Project referred to SB 1027 as an “extremely narrow law.” It will allow those suffering from intractable epilepsy to access CBD oils produced in state by Department of Health-approved pharmaceutical companies.