A look at what 2018 holds for marijuana laws in Virginia

State lawmakers are likely to fall short of passing a marijuana decriminalization bill for Virginia in 2018.

Advocates for the decriminalization of marijuana in Virginia were recently left disappointed when it became clear that the Senate leadership would not back a full decriminalization bill this year. As the Richmond Times-Dispatch reports, instead of full decriminalization, state lawmakers plan to pursue a bill that would eliminate jail time for first-time pot offenses and give some an opportunity to expunge their criminal records. The watered down measure is a result of concerns that a decriminalization bill would be less likely to pass in the House.

No decriminalization in 2018

Marijuana legalization and decriminalization advocates had high hopes that 2018 would be the year when Virginia joined the growing list of states that have decriminalized simple possession of marijuana. As Fauquier Now reports, those hopes were based on previous public comments from Senate Majority Leader Tommy Norment in which he expressed support for decriminalization. Decriminalization means that simple possession of marijuana would be a civil offense, much like a parking ticket, rather than a misdemeanor that could go on one's criminal record.

However, it appears that other state lawmakers were not quite onboard with decriminalization and Mr. Norment expressed concerns that a decriminalization bill would falter in the House.

No jail time for simple possession

As a compromise, Senate Bill 954 was filed instead. While the bill does not decriminalize marijuana, it does mean that people convicted of a first offense won't face jail time. Essentially, the bill turns into law what is already done in practice, whereby first-time offenders are eligible for a probationary program and can then have their charges dismissed by a judge. Instead of dismissal, the bill would see to it that the charges are expunged from the individual's record.

While 2018 is unlikely to be the year when marijuana is finally decriminalized in Virginia, support for such a move is growing. A 2016 poll, for example, found that approximately 80 percent of Virginians support decriminalization while 62 percent support full legalization for recreational purposes. Currently, possession of small amounts of marijuana has been decriminalized in 21 states and the District of Columbia.

Fighting criminal charges

Whether it is drug charges or other serious offenses, when accused of a crime it is important to contact a criminal defense attorney right away. A conviction could lead to jail time, fines, and a criminal record, which could make it difficult to find a job or a place to live. An experienced attorney can help clien ts in a number of ways, including with helping them understand their rights, fighting against the charges, or negotiating for a deal that best serves their long-term interests.