- Joseph Amonett
Here at Dominion Law, we believe that people should be able to live their lives with minimal government interference. There is no reason for the government to intrude on the privacy of individuals as long as they are not causing injury to others. This year, Virginia has shown that it is starting to accept this concept just a little more by decriminalizing the possession of marijuana for personal use. Effective July 1, 2020, possession of marijuana will become a civil infraction instead of a criminal misdemeanor. Instead of facing the possibility of jail, those caught with marijuana will merely face a $25 civil penalty. The $25 civil penalty will also apply to hashish oil, which was previously listed as a felony schedule I/II drug in Virginia. It will still be a criminal offense to possess marijuana with the intent to distribute, but the new law creates a rebuttable presumption that the possession of one ounce or less is for personal use.
But what about for people who have already been convicted? It would not be fair for them to be labeled criminals when others will not. Fortunately, records maintained by the Virginia Central Criminal Records Exchange relating to the arrest, criminal charge, or conviction of marijuana possession will not be open to public inspection and disclosure. There are a few exceptions to this rule, one of which is that these records may be used to determine whether a person is eligible to purchase or possess a firearm under federal law. The new law also prohibits employers and educational institutions from requiring an applicant to disclose information relating to such an arrest, criminal charge, or conviction and further prohibits the state and local governments from requiring an applicant to disclose such information for a license, permit, registration, or governmental service. This is a huge win for personal privacy.
Although marijuana is just now becoming decriminalized in Virginia, various governmental state entities already must provide a report to the Governor and General Assembly by November 30, 2020, concerning the impact that marijuana legalization would have on the Commonwealth. Time will tell if the possession and sale of marijuana will be legal next year.