A measure allowing first-time cannabis offenders in Virginia to expunge the charge for $150 passed the state Senate 38-2 on Monday, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reports. The measure would allow individuals to defer a finding on the charge and ultimately be found not guilty if the offender does community service and pass drug tests as ordered by the court.
According to the bill text, as passed by the Senate, a misdemeanor charge would require up to 24 hours of community service to be eligible for expungement under the program, and 100 hours for a felony charge – along with probation. The measure also eliminates the mandatory 30 days of jail time associated with misdemeanor cannabis possession, but the $500 fine remains in place.
The bill points out that “a charge of a violation of this section that has been expunged under [the law] shall be deemed a conviction for purposes of prosecuting a person for a second or subsequent violation of this section” – meaning the charge is expunged, but not when it comes to the courts.
State Sen. Adam Ebbins, a Democrat who voted against the measure, told the Times-Dispatch that he opposed the bill because it doesn’t address the racially biased enforcement of cannabis laws, adding that public opinion polls show that Virginia citizens want decriminalization.
A Feb. 7 Wason Center for Public Policy poll found 76 percent support for decriminalization.
Sen. Tommy Norment, the Republican bill sponsor, had hoped to pass a decriminalization measure; however, he admitted that the Legislature had no appetite for decriminalization. He called the Senate-approved bill a “substantial step forward.”
The Senate also passed a measure to create an expungement process for underage alcohol and cannabis charges five years after the penalties are completed. Both measures require House approval and the governor’s signature before they become law.