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Ebbin Proposes Marijuana Decriminalization in Virginia

Marijuana and handcuff (photo via Facebook)(Updated at 4:40 p.m.) State Sen. Adam Ebbin (D), who represents part of Arlington, has proposed a bill that would decriminalize the possession of marijuana for personal use.

Ebbin’s bill, SB686, is similar to the marijuana decriminalization statute that went into effect in the District earlier this year. (D.C. has since voted to legalize marijuana.) SB686 changes simple marijuana possession from a crime punishable by a $500 fine, and/or up to 30 days in jail, to a civil infraction — a ticket — with a maximum $100 penalty, payable to the state’s Literary Fund.

The distribution of marijuana would remain a crime, but would be reduced to a lesser misdemeanor for all marijuana quantities less than a pound. Growing up to up to six marijuana plants would be considered personal use and not an intent to distribute.

Ebbin, who was endorsed by the marijuana advocacy group NORML earlier this year, told Richmond’s CBS 6 that Virginia’s current marijuana laws do more harm than good.

“I don’t think marijuana decriminalization has ever been introduced in the Virginia Senate,” Ebbin told the TV station. “I think criminalizing marijuana, disrupting careers and families, does more harm than the drug itself does.”

The bill has a co-patron in Del. Kaye Kory, the Falls Church Democrat.

“Marijuana decriminalization is trending across the country and this bill will get us talking about it in Virginia,” Kory told ARLnow.com this afternoon. “The conversation will go back and forth over what steps we want to take and when to take them. There’s no telling how long the process will take, but the important thing is that we’re having the conversation.​”

There’s some history of support for marijuana-related reforms among local politicians and politically-active groups. In 2012, then-Del. David Englin (D) proposed studying whether Virginia ABC stores should some day sell marijuana. In April, the Arlington Falls Church Young Republicans hosted a forum to discuss marijuana sentencing reform.

Ebbin’s bill will be considered once the Virginia General Assembly convenes in January. With both the House of the Delegates and the state Senate now controlled by Republicans, the bill seemingly faces long odds of passage.

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