Virginia became the latest state to decriminalize marijuana, after Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam signed a sweeping criminal justice legislative package into law on Sunday.
The legislation will decriminalize simple possession of pot and create a $25 civil penalty It will also seal the records of convictions and prohibit employers from inquiring about past convictions.
“Every Virginian deserves access to a fair and equitable criminal justice system,” said Northam in a statement. “These bills combat mass incarceration, increase support for returning citizens, and ensure that those who have paid their debt to society have a meaningful second chance. I thank the General Assembly for working with us to build a more just and inclusive Commonwealth.”
The bills are the culmination of a vision that Northam outlined back in January, when he offered up a criminal justice reform package that included marijuana decriminalization. The legislation passed Virginia’s general assembly last month.
Northam has, notably, stopped short of endorsing outright legalization of marijuana, but the legislation he signed on Sunday does include the creation of a work group to study the impact of legalization of marijuana. The group has until November 30, 2021 to prepare a report for Northam.
By then, the Commonwealth will be preparing to welcome a new governor. It could be Mark Herring, Virginia’s Democratic attorney general who said he will mount a gubernatorial bid next year.
Herring announced his support for marijuana legalization in a tweet back in October. In the tweet, he cited the poll he mentioned at the summit on Wednesday. The poll, conducted by the University of Mary Washington, found that 61 percent of Virginians support legalization marijuana for recreational use—up from 39 percent when the school polled the same question only two years ago.
“Virginians know we can do better. It’s time to move toward legal, regulated adult use,” Herring wrote in the tweet.
In December, Herring hosted a day-long summit in the capital city of Richmond, where he made his case for joining the more than dozen states and cities that have lifted pot prohibition.