A Virginia bill introduced for the 2015 legislative session will reduce the criminal penalties for cannabis possession and make possession of small amounts of the plant a civil infraction punishable by a small fine.
Senate Bill 686 (SB686) will drastically alter established law enforcement priorities in the state of Virginia if it's passed into law. Its primary author is Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-District 30) with Del. Kaye Kory (D-District 38) listed as a supporter of the legislation.
This bill aims to relax the state-level restrictions against cannabis in a variety of ways. SB686 eliminates any criminal prosecution and the possibility of jail time for possessing a small amount of the plant, and reduces the fine from $500 to $100.
Presently, the penalties for possession of less than half of an ounce of marijuana are a Class 1 misdemeanor. Under SB686, possession of less than a full ounce of marijuana will be considered a less serious Class 3 misdemeanor.
Criminal penalties for possession of larger quantities of marijuana are lessened as well. Currently, possession of more than half an ounce and up to five pounds of marijuana is a considered a Class 5 felony. Under SB686, it becomes a Class 1 misdemeanor to possess more than one ounce but less than one pound of marijuana.
Possession of more than one pound of marijuana but not more than five pounds is classified as a Class 6 felony under SB686. Possession of over five pounds remains a Class 5 felony, but a mandatory minimum of five years in prison is removed from the existing statute.
Under SB686, the manufacture of marijuana or possession with intent to manufacture is reduced from a felony with a mandatory minimum of five years in prison to a Class 1 misdemeanor. A provision in the bill also notes that an individual cultivating up to six plants is presumed to be only growing for personal use and therefore absolved from criminal prosecution and subject only to a $100 fine.
Civil asset forfeiture requirements would be altered under SB686 with it only being permissible if the suspect in question is in possession of more than a pound of marijuana. Marijuana is also removed from a statute regarding drug paraphernalia, and criminal penalties only apply to an adult if they are distributing it to a minor.
Although the passage of SB686 would not necessarily mean an immediate and complete end to the war on marijuana, it is still a great step in the right direction. Any chance that we have to make it more difficult for people to be locked in cages for the non-violent non-crime of marijuana possession is something we should seize upon. Full-blown legalization is on its way, and measures like SB686 can help grease the wheels on our way toward that inevitable goal!
If you live in the state of Virginia, contact your state legislators immediately. It is important for you to politely urge them to co-sponsor this important bill. That is how you can make a difference in the fight against cannabis prohibition. If you live in another state, contact your state legislators and urge them to introduce a similar bill to SB686 such as our PEACE Act.