State Crime Commission to study decriminalizing marijuana

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — For years, Republicans have shot down the idea of decriminalizing marijuana, but a number of lawmakers seem to be reversing course, following Senate Majority Leader Tommy Norment’s lead.

Norment shocked many back in November when he had this to say to our sister station about the issue:

“It is crazy, we lock up people in the state for modest amounts of marijuana. I think the issue can adequately be addressed with civil penalties rather than criminal ones.”

Shortly after making those comments, Norment sent a letter to the chairman of the state Crime Commission requesting a study on criminal penalties for the possession of small amounts of marijuana. The executive committee of the commission decided Wednesday they would move forward and study the issue.

“It’s fantastic, this is absolutely a necessary step,” said Jenn Michelle Pedini with Virginia Norml.

Pedini says a study is one step closer to passing legislation that would make possession of marijuana a civil offense, not a criminal one. She says the study will look at states that have passed similar measures.

“Have they lost any federal funding? How have they amended their criminal code? Were there any true collateral consequences to public safety?” Pedini explained.

Advocates like Pedini have long said that while both whites and blacks use marijuana equally, current laws have had a disproportionately negative effect on African Americans.

“I’m very hopeful that this measure will lead to an improved decriminalization bill in 2018 that has a much better chance at passing,” Pedini said.