RICHMOND, Va. (WVEC) -- Inching toward marijuana law reform in Virginia: a state Senate Committee on Monday approved a bill that would get rid of an existing law, and the same panel also ordered up a study on the possibility of decriminalization.
Senate Bill 1091 revises the existing provision in Virginia that a person loses his driver's license for six months when convicted of simple possession of marijuana.
Alexandria State Senator Adam Ebbin, who sponsored the reform, says the old law makes no sense, and he's pleased that the Senate Courts of Justice Committee agreed on a 14-to-1 vote.
"I think the General Assembly will recognize that taking someone's driver's license away for a marijuana offense is irrelevant punishment, and can actually make it more difficult to hold a job, which is not something that anyone should want," he said in an interview with 13News Now.
Ebbin's broader bill, SB 1269 -- along with a similar measure from Portsmouth Senator Louise Lucas -- were passed over indefinitely, pending a new study by the State Crime Commission. They would decriminalize possession of marijuana, and impose a civil fine instead.
As things stand right now in Virginia, possession of less than a half-ounce of marijuana is a Class I misdemeanor, punishable by no more than 30 days in jail and/or a find of up to $500 for a first offense.
Twenty-six states and the District of Columbia currently have laws legalizing marijuana in some form. Three other states will soon join them, after recently passing measures permitting use of medical marijuana. The rest, including Virginia, still have prohibitions.
"I would say that the prohibition on marijuana has failed in Virginia," Ebbin said, "and we need to study how we can move forward. It's long past time to look at this, and I'm hoping the Crime Commission will take a look."
James City County Senator and Senate Majority Leader Tommy Norment also supports the idea of a study by the State Crime Commission.
But there is some resistance. The Virginia State Police and the Virginia Association of Commonwealth's Attorneys are on record opposing any legislation which would result in decriminalization.
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