July 1, 2020

Cannabis Decriminalization Policy in Ohio and Virginia

July 1, 2020
cannabis

While possession of small amounts of cannabis is still illegal in Ohio, those caught with up to 200 grams will be off the hook with just a civil citation and a $150 fine, according to a recent decision in the state’s Senate.

The Senate Bill essentially lowers non-violent drug possession charges from felonies to misdemeanors, enables judges to put such cases on hold, and possibly dismiss them forever if a defendant completes a drug treatment program.

The change, approved in a 24-5 Senate floor vote, was welcomed among Ohioans where current law classifies 100 grams of cannabis as a misdemeanor, which many say has resulted in discriminatory arrests in minority and poor communities.

The problem in the past has stemmed from disagreement over personal use and how much should be considered a felony and how much should be a misdemeanor. 

“We believe that we have found the appropriate mark in the sand,” Sen. Sean O’Brien, one of the Senate Bill’s co-sponsors, told The Dispatch.

Bipartisan Support for Cannabis in Ohio

“Ohio has once again shown that it is committed to bipartisan solutions to the state’s greatest problems, serving as an example for the rest of the country,” wrote Justice Action Network Executive Director Holly Harris in a statement.

Conservative groups such as Americans For Prosperity and liberal groups like the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio agreed that a felony conviction for someone struggling with an addiction doesn’t help them get better and that prison may actually make the problem worse.

“Senate Bill 3 was not written in this moment, but it is the rare bill that is truly meeting the moment,” said Harris in a statement. “It will help reduce the prison population, leaving far fewer people at risk during the COVID-19 pandemic. It will save up to $75 million in critical taxpayer dollars as the state deals with a fiscal crisis, and it will eliminate unnecessary interactions with the criminal justice system for minor drug offenses as we work to improve relationships between law enforcement and the communities they serve.”

Cannabis Decriminalization in Virginia

Cannabis decriminalization officially went into effect on July 1, 2020, several months after it was approved in Feb. 2020 and later signed into law by Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam.

The new measure makes possession of up to one ounce of cannabis punishable by a $25 fine with no threat of jail time and no criminal record.

It also seals the criminal records related to misdemeanor marijuana possession from employers and school administrators, and defines substances previously considered hashish as marijuana.

NORML pointed out that in 2018, police made nearly 30,000 marijuana-related arrests in Virginia. 

Virginia is the 27th state to enact this type of policy change.

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