I’m Northern Virginia criminal defense attorney Scott Nolan. And I’m here to talk to you about the impending decriminalization of marijuana. Many states in the United States have already decriminalized marijuana. And Virginia appears to be poised to be the very next state. This, I will admit, is actually a surprise to me.

What has changed in Virginia?

I’ve said many times that I thought if every state was going to decriminalize marijuana, Virginia would be the last to do it. But with the change toward Democrats in the house and senate of Virginia, and with the decriminalization of marijuana being one of the goals of Virginia’s Governor Northam, it appears that they are poised to do just that.

Decriminalization does not mean legalization

However, I want to be clear. We’re not talking about legalization. It will still be illegal under the proposed amendment to have marijuana in your possession. It simply won’t be a crime. Instead, it will be a civil offense. That is something for which you can get a fine but not a criminal record.

And that’s huge because having a criminal record can affect your ability to be employed. It can also affect your ability to get mortgages and even to find a place to live. These are crucial changes for some people.

How soon will it happen?

As I’m recording this in late April of 2020, the Virginia Congress has sent a marijuana decriminalization bill to the governor. And the governor, who asked for the bill in the first place, has sent it back, asking for a number of changes. And the Virginia legislature has made most of those changes and sent it back to the governor. Now it appears that the governor will sign it.

It seems to me virtually certain that a marijuana decriminalization act will be signed into law this year and probably go into effect in July of this year, 2020. I will keep you updated on what that means.

What about current marijuana charges?

Many of you are already asking, “What does that mean for my current marijuana charges?” Of course I can’t speak with certainty until I see the actual law signed into effect. However, it is virtually certain that prosecutions for small amounts of marijuana are simply going to be dropped.

It will still be a crime to sell. It will also still be a crime to possess marijuana and a firearm. So, there are still going to be marijuana-related crimes on the books. But if you have a current pending charge for marijuana possession and it’s not a large volume of marijuana, I suspect the odds are very good that the prosecutors are simply going to drop those charges.

Another impending bill

What happens to those of you who have a recent marijuana charge or perhaps the only thing on your record is a marijuana charge? Well, I’ve just done a video about another impending bill that may allow you to get that charge expunged. You can check out that video right here.

And if you have any questions about the decriminalization of marijuana in Virginia, give me a call. I’ll be happy to talk to you about it.